The Detroit Shock was strong and quick, with guard Jennifer Azzi slicing through the defense to score 18 points. That would be the Washington Mystics' defense, which was weak and slow and ultimately unsuccessful as Detroit defeated the Mystics, 76-69, in front of 13,423 at MCI Center.
"We were slow to react," Washington center Murriel Page said. "They were taking it to us, and we weren't up to the challenge. I don't know why."
Mystics rookie Chamique Holdsclaw had an answer. "In the second half, we folded," said Holdsclaw, who had 18 points and four turnovers.
Azzi was a star in the defunct American Basketball League and the 18 points were the most she scored in four WNBA games with Detroit (3-1). In one 18-second span of the second half, she registered two three-point plays to give the Shock the cushion they needed against the Mystics (1-3).
Collectively, the Shock controlled the game, even though Washington had the advantage in several statistical categories. But Detroit's energetic style led to twice as many free-throw attempts as Washington. The Shock made 28 of 36 free throws, and got 13 second-chance points, as the Mystics stood and watched.
"Detroit was the most aggressive team," Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch said. "They seemed to get a lot of the hustle plays -- loose balls and offensive rebounds. They were tough to defend off the dribble. They have a lot of international players, and then Azzi is extremely tough to defend."
However, Azzi, who made 8 of 9 free throws, had a different explanation. "They didn't seem to be playing together," she said. The Mystics have "a lot of talent . . . [but were] not playing as a unit."
Azzi wasn't a one-woman show, though. Guard Sandy Brondello also penetrated frequently, and finished 12 points. And center Val Whiting was a force inside, totaling 11 points and seven rebounds. She also had five assists, feeding teammates as they cut to the basket.
As a result, all five Washington starters finished the game with at least four fouls.
Washington guard Nikki McCray scored 10 of her 19 points in the first half. The Shock made a late surge to tie the game at 36 at halftime, and the Mystics were in trouble midway through the second half.
Washington reserves Markita Aldridge, Rita Williams and Page helped pull the Mystics within 47-46 with 12 minutes 15 seconds remaining. Korie Hlede made a three-pointer to push the Detroit lead to four, but Washington's Shalonda Enis made a free throw to make it 50-47.
Then Azzi took over. She drove in for a layup to push the lead to five points, before McCray answered with a similar move to make the score 52-49 with 8:18 to go. Seconds later, Azzi was fouled by Aldridge as she made a driving layup, and made the free throw to make the score 55-49. The next Detroit possession appeared to be a replay, as Azzi converted a three-point play after a foul by Andrea Nagy to push the lead to 58-49 with 7:18 remaining.
After that, the Shock answered a series of Washington surges to secure the outcome.
"When I look at the games we've lost, we've had certain people burn us," McCray said. "First it was Dawn Staley [of Charlotte], then it was [Houston's] Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes, and tonight it was Jennifer Azzi. We have to do better" tonight at Orlando.
Another key difference in the game was bench play. Half of the Shock's points were by its reserves, although Azzi, typically a starter, skewed those numbers. Meanwhile, Washington got 13 points from its reserves, including eight by Page.
Page played 15 minutes in the second half, in place of starting center Alessandra Santos de Oliveira, who had only two points and two rebounds in 23 minutes. When asked if Santos de Oliveira was in jeopardy of losing her starting job, Darsch said, "Not at this point."
Tonight at Orlando, Washington will try to regain the intensity it displayed earlier this week at New York, where the Mystics gained their only win of the season.
"We'll go out and play hard," Holdsclaw said. "We want to get out and get it. We need to do it for team morale."
Data: at Orlando Miracle.
Where: Orlando Arena.
When: 7:30 p.m.
Records: Washington 1-3; Orlando 1-3.
CAPTION: Washington rookie Chamique Holdsclaw (18 points) looks for an opening on way to the basket. "In the second half, we folded," says Holdsclaw.