Mystics Let Fever Slip Away

Fever 79, Mystics 68

Washington's Nakia Sanford, left, defends Indiana's Tamika Catchings; the Mystics' loss left them four games behind the Fever for a playoff berth.
Washington's Nakia Sanford, left, defends Indiana's Tamika Catchings; the Mystics' loss left them four games behind the Fever for a playoff berth. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008; Page E03

For one half the Washington Mystics looked capable of putting every little detail together. They got out to a fast start and forced the Indiana Fever out of its comfort zone and even held them scoreless for long stretches. The Mystics passed efficiently and won nearly every battle for loose balls.

But the Mystics' domination of last night's game against Indiana at Verizon Center hit its expiration date long before the game ended. The strong early performance curdled and soured as Washington tied its season high with 24 turnovers in its fourth straight loss, 79-68 to the Fever.

The Mystics (10-19) are now four games behind the Fever (14-15) for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With just five games remaining in the regular season, including three against the top two teams in the East, Washington's hopes of staying in the race for the postseason are rapidly diminishing.

"We felt so good," said guard Alana Beard, who had a team high 17 points on 8-of-16 shooting. "It felt like everything we've been working on was finally coming together. Time sort of has run out [on the playoffs] but I can guarantee that we're not going to stop working and that we're going to keep working to get that complete game."

For the first time since the regular season resumed the Mystics got out to a fast start and were able to establish a lead in the first two minutes that they maintained throughout the half. Each time Indiana looked ready to challenge that lead, the Mystics buckled down defensively and showed that perhaps they would win the battle between the two lowest scoring teams in the WNBA -- heading into last night's game the Mystics were averaging 69 points per game while Indiana was only slightly ahead with 71.

In the second quarter, Washington banished the defensive woes that have dampened most of its season. They held Indiana to just four field goals -- including a roughly six-minute stretch where the Fever could muster just two points -- and outrebounded them 11-6.

But the one place Washington couldn't contain Indiana was behind the three-point arc. The Fever players weren't consistent but they were wide open on a regular basis, shooting at will and being allowed to pull themselves back into the game.

When the Mystics' solid defensive effort crumbled in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second quarter, three-pointers by Tan White, Tamika Catchings and Tully Bevilaqua ignited a 19-6 Indiana run. It was a stretch that not only erased the eight-point deficit they were facing at halftime but allowed the Fever to claim a 56-51 lead and siphon the game's energy away from the Mystics.

"Indiana came out fighting harder than us," forward Monique Currie said. "We just didn't play as hard as we did in the first half. It's frustrating and hard on us. We see spurts of really good things, but since the break we really havent been able to close things out at the end. This is a game we could have won just like the others. It's the same old story."

The Fever, which came into last night's game averaging 34 percent from behind the arc, shot 39 percent against Washington, making 11 of its 28 three-pointers. In the third quarter Washington was outscored 25-10 as it was Indiana's turn to come up with every loose ball, establish a lead and defend it throughout the half.

But despite the inability to win, interim coach Jessie Kenlaw said the team remains united in efforts to build off of each game.

"I'm happy with a lot of things we've been able to accomplish," Kenlaw said prior to yesterday's start. "The only thing I'm not happy with is the win-loss column. A lot of people only pay attention to that, and rightfully so, but there are things that perhaps only we as a team notice that show me we're progressing. Now if we could get that to show in wins more, that'd be icing on the cake for me."

Mystics notes: After missing the first two games since the league resumed play after the Olympic break with a sprained right ankle, point guard Nikki Blue was back in the lineup. Blue had zero points on 0 of 3 shooting and one assist against Indiana. Forwards Krystal Vaughn and Bernice Mosby were inactive, and the decision to sit Mosby comes two games after she started against Chicago.

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