Sacramento's Ruthie Bolton-Holifield opened the game by singing the national anthem and she closed it by keeping the Washington Mystics winless at home this season. Bolton-Holifield matched her franchise record by scoring 34 points -- including 22 in the second half -- to lead the Monarchs to a 79-74 win last night before 14,176 fans at MCI Center.
Bolton-Holifield sang the anthem with Mystics guard Nikki McCray, who then had the unfortunate job of guarding her singing partner. Bolton-Holifield broke a late tie and made eight straight free throws in the last three minutes.
"That's how she is, that's how she plays, that's why she's an Olympian," Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch said. "I think Ruthie was hot tonight and they maximized her."
The Mystics (2-8) won their previous game, in Charlotte, but they couldn't put together a second straight victory and they are 0-5 at home this season. Chamique Holdsclaw had a team-high 22 points and McCray had 20, but there wasn't enough other support. The Monarchs (7-3) won with Bolton-Holifield's tremendous performance on a night when forward Yolanda Griffith was held to five points. She had scored in double digits in the Monarchs' first nine games.
The Mystics rallied from a halftime deficit to take a 68-65 lead late in the second half. But Bolton-Holifield and the Monarchs rallied and led 75-71 with 49.3 seconds to go. Bolton-Holifield had the ball and McCray guarded her patiently, deciding not to foul her until 24.3 seconds remained.
"I kept expecting her to make a move for a shot," McCray said. "She never did. We didn't get the steal, so we had to foul."
The Mystics have lost leads several times this season. The tension to win may get the best of them.
"I think we all want to win so badly that we all try to chip in," Darsch said. "We kind of lose some of our poise, don't execute as well as we should, don't really have the discipline to always find the open shooter. We want to do it ourselves. . . . I think we get a little over-anxious."
The Monarchs led 35-32 at the half, despite Griffith, who entered the game leading the WNBA in double doubles (six), having only one point and one rebound. Using combinations of physical man-to-man defense and a flexible 2-3 zone, the Mystics were able to limit Griffith's effectiveness (0 for 5 shooting in the first half).
But Bolton-Holifield, who also had six rebounds and seven assists, created space for her jumpers and scored 12 points in the first half.
Washington had too many poor passes and turnovers.
"I think we were running our offense well, but we weren't hitting our shots or making the plays when we needed to," McCray said.
The Monarchs opened the second half on a blaze and extended their lead to 11. Then Washington came back, with McCray hitting open jumpers and Holdsclaw finding Murriel Page for some easy points in transition. But there wasn't enough scoring to match the Monarchs down the stretch.
Giving up offensive rebounds has hurt the Mystics this season, and last night was no different. Many times Monarchs forward Latasha Byears (nine rebounds) missed easy shots in the post, but was able to get the offensive rebounds to sour the Mystics' chances. "In crucial times, we didn't execute as cleanly as we should have," Darsch said.
With only two wins and many close losses, the Mystics feel their losing-from-ahead shtick is growing tired.
"Yes," Mystics guard Markita Aldridge said. "This way of losing, not executing at the end, yeah, it's getting old."
Mystics Note: Valerie Still, who was signed by the team Wednesday, played 11 minutes and scored five points.
CAPTION: Chamique Holdsclaw gets tangled up in pursuit of ball. The Mystics were unable to extricate themselves from home loss column, 0-5 this season.
CAPTION: Nikki McCray did a lot in last night's Mystics game, from singing national anthem to scoring 20 points.