The ice packs were on, and so were the long faces. For 10 minutes following their 76-65 loss to the Cleveland Rockers at Gund Arena tonight, the Mystics players sat in a circle in their locker room, encouraging and dissecting and saying anything that could be said to keep the team together after its seventh loss of the season.
"Yeah, this is getting tough," said forward Shalonda Enis, who shot 3 for 11 and finished with nine points. "What can you say? We've got to stay as a team. That's the best we can focus on."
"There are so many things right now: mental lapses, defensive lapses, offensive lapses, everything," said Mystics forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who shot 5 for 15 one night after scoring a career-high 24 points. "We've got to work harder than that. It's not about me; I'm bigger than that. It's about the team."
After erasing Cleveland's 45-37 halftime lead and tying the game at 55, the Mystics (1-7) went cold. They missed eight of their next nine shots, and when Rockers center Chasity Melvin went on a tear, collecting 10 of her 14 points as the game tightened, Cleveland was able to build a 70-61 lead and win for the first time this season.
"See that board over there?" said Cleveland forward Janice Braxton, who pointed to a WNBA standings board. "That says zero under the win column. We had to have this game. Did we want it more? Man, we had to win."
Unlike its two previous losses, in which Washington collapsed after surrendering leads in the second half, the team was not able to take complete control tonight.
"They outsized us, they out-physicalled us, they outhustled us," Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch said. "They wanted it more than we did."
Cleveland used its size inside to move the Mystics' smaller defenders out of the way. And even when Rockers forwards Michelle Edwards, Tracy Henderson and Rushia Brown missed easy shots near the basket, which they did often, they were able to gather the rebounds. Cleveland had 12 second-chance points to Washington's four.
"We're in there, and we're in position, and we're still not getting the rebounds," Darsch said. "And it was because of the size factor. . . . When you're [6 feet 1], you're not going to get all the rebounds from someone 6-4."
Mystics guard Nikki McCray scored a game-high 25 points but couldn't get her shots to fall down the stretch. McCray and Holdsclaw took nine of the team's last 10 shots, and only one -- a jumper by Holdsclaw -- was good. Holdsclaw finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Cleveland also benefited from some tight officiating on Mystics forward Murriel Page and Enis. Page, who was matched against more physical players, was consistently called for hand-checking and eventually fouled out.
Darsch said Cleveland guard Suzie McConnell Serio defended Mystics guard Andrea Nagy with a lot of contact. "And they called nothing," Darsch said. "It's difficult to understand."
Regardless, frustration from another loss is gnawing at the Mystics.
"As long as we stay together, things will be okay," Enis said. "If we drift apart, we're in trouble. It's long overdue, but it's going to come."
CAPTION: "What can you say? We've got to stay as a team," says Mystics' Shalonda Enis (3 for 11, nine points), battling the Rockers' Eva Nemcova for rebound.