The Washington Mystics will be playing a road game tonight when they meet the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden, but it will be a homecoming of sorts for two of the team's newest additions -- top draft pick Chamique Holdsclaw and Coach Nancy Darsch.

Holdsclaw, who grew up in Astoria, N.Y., played several games in her home state while in college at the University of Tennessee, but this will be her first game there as a professional. Darsch will be coaching her first game against the Liberty, the team she led for two seasons.

"It's going to be exciting," said Holdsclaw, who won four state titles while at Christ the King High School. "We definitely want to win this one -- for ourselves and for Coach Darsch. To get started off on the right foot, would there be a better place to be? And then this is my home town, so I definitely want to play hard and get in that win column."

The Mystics have started their season with two losses, mostly as a result of lackadaisical defense and undisciplined offense. They opened the season with a home loss to Charlotte and followed that with an 88-63 defeat in Houston Saturday night.

After that game, Darsch made a long speech to her team. She talked to them about playing with heart and intensity and the Mystics took an oath to do so, even if it doesn't immediately produce victories.

"It's certainly an important game for us," said Darsch, who was fired by the Liberty after leading the team to a 36-24 record and a trip to the WNBA title game. "We have to improve every game. . . . There's nothing like playing in the Garden. Hopefully, we'll respond."

If the Mystics are going to beat the Liberty (2-0), they will need a big game from Holdsclaw and Nikki McCray. The two combined for just 15 points against the two-time WNBA champion Comets after totaling 40 in the season opener.

McCray, who led the team in scoring last season and is doing so again this year with a 15.5 point average, sees no reason to panic at this point in the season. The Mystics are allowing an average of 85 points per game after giving up a league-worst 80.5 per game last year, but they have done many positive things, shooting 82 percent (31 of 38) from the free throw line and outrebounding opponents 72-63. Holdsclaw is averaging 9.5 rebounds per game.

"What we have is good," McCray said. "We've just got to tune it up, believe in the system, believe in the defense, believe in what the game plan is each day out, and just be ready to play. Then we have to stick to it.

"Nancy's disappointed in our defense, and I'm disappointed because as a veteran, I've just got to step up and get the team going defensively. We've just got to be ready every night, and we've got to start here."

Although Holdsclaw will be playing in front of family and friends, getting her first win in the WNBA is the most important thing on her mind.

"We just want to go out there and win," she said. "I'm not worried about the family and all that. It's great that they get to see me play, but right now this is kind of like my job. After a while, you get sick of being at the bottom."


Data: Washington Mystics at New York Liberty.

Where: Madison Square Garden

When: 7:30 p.m.


Radio: WGAY-1260

Records: Mystics 0-2; Liberty 2-0.

Injuries: Liberty F Rebecca Lobo is out for the season (knee). Mystics C Heather Owen is on the injured list (shoulder).