It was obvious in Washington's 71-63 victory over the New York Liberty on Tuesday night that Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch put the ball squarely in the hands of forward Chamique Holdsclaw and guard Nikki McCray and said, "Run the team."
During the game, Washington's two most explosive players helped calm their team's sometimes panicky offense, and a more complete Mystics emerged. They hope to have similar results when they play the Utah Starzz tonight at MCI Center.
McCray and Holdsclaw dominated the shooting -- taking 29 of the team's 49 shots -- but also were able to get everyone involved. The Mystics (3-8) had four starters score in double figures and McCray tied a career high with nine assists. They were the constants on the floor as Darsch employed more bench play, something she said made things easier for everyone else.
"Everyone is clear what to do," Darsch said. "It's not, `Should I pass, or should I shoot, or should I post up?' It gives everyone fewer options so that they can focus on what their job is."
"She [Darsch] wanted the ball in the perimeter's hands to let us drive and get the double team and then kick it to the open player, which she did," McCray said.
Possession after possession Tuesday night, McCray penetrated New York's zone defense and found either forward Shalonda Enis or Murriel Page open in the lane for close baskets.
"When I was driving baseline, I knew the double-team was coming and I was able to hit some people, as were Chamique and Shalonda," McCray said. "And [New York was] leaving them open. I was waiting for them to catch on to it, but they never did. They didn't drop very well in their [defensive] rotation."
Rookie Holdsclaw, who is averaging 17.5 points per game and maturing fast, was fearless down the stretch, either hitting short fadeaway jumpers or driving the lane. If Washington's most prominent offensive players are operating smoothly tonight it could be trouble for Utah, which is giving up the most points in the league (83.2 per game). If the game is tight, Holdsclaw will get the ball.
"Because she has proven herself capable of scoring the big shots and creating the big shots and being unselfish with the ball, I have no problems putting her in that situation late in the game," Darsch said. "She's been accustomed to it."
Holdsclaw and McCray also helped the team hold the more physical Liberty, the Eastern Conference leader, to nearly 10 points below their season average of 72.1. Only two New York players made more than half of their shots. The Liberty shot only 39 percent.
The Mystics' defense helped create easy baskets. In the second half of Tuesday night's game, Holdsclaw blocked New York guard Teresa Weatherspoon's jumper from behind, pushed the ball up court and found McCray in transition. It was one of three blocks for Holdsclaw.
Not that everything the Mystics tried on offense worked. Of Washington's five starters, only McCray made any three-pointers (two). The Mystics turned over the ball 18 times and were whistled for a shot-clock violation with 1 minute 15 seconds left, leading 65-61. But the team showed patience when things got close in the second half, something players said is overdue and that they hope they will continue to demonstrate.
"Nancy always said she always wants to look for 'Mique [Chamique] or Shalonda or me at the end of the game and I think we really do a good job of finding the open player. . . ." McCray said. "In the past I feel like we've taken quick shots, trying to make that shot so we can win and it [hasn't alwaysworked]. We were able to keep our composure and we stepped up and made all the stops. That's the key."
Date: vs. Utah Starzz.
Where: MCI Center.
When: 7 p.m.
Records: Starzz 4-6, Mystics 3-8.
Injuries: Starzz F Olympia Scott-Richardson (pregnancy) is on the injured list. Mystics F Heather Owen (shoulder) is on the injured list.