It does not take much to make history in a two-year-old franchise, but the Washington Mystics have wrestled with doing just that. Last night they struggled offensively and defensively in their attempt to record the team's first-ever winning streak and lost, 81-65, to the Utah Starzz before 12,515 at MCI Center.
Mystics forward Chamique Holdsclaw scored a game-high 23 points, but she also recorded a team-record 11 turnovers, including six in the second half. The Mystics' four inside players combined to shoot 3 for 15 against Utah's 2-3 zone defense.
"I don't think it had anything to do with a 2-3 zone. I think we weren't ready to play," Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch said. "We were sloppy. We weren't fundamentally sound. We didn't execute. . . . We were just sloppy. We weren't here."
Former University of Virginia star Wendy Palmer led the Starzz with 17 points. Utah's defensive tandem of 7-foot-2 center Margo Dydek and 6-5 Elena Baranova helped force 24 turnovers.
The Mystics made just 1 of 7 attempts during a seven-minute span in the second half, which turned an eight-point halftime deficit into a 66-44 Starzz lead. The Mystics (3-9) had beaten the New York Liberty on Tuesday for their first home win of the season.
"I don't think we showed up to play," Holdsclaw said. "Coach Darsch said we didn't have a good practice yesterday and we didn't have a good shoot-around today. Welcome to the big girls league. We can't go out there and play great one night and then decide to take the couple of days off. It's essential for this team to mature. We just go up and down."
Tuesday's victory over New York was guided by Mystics guard Nikki McCray and Holdsclaw's penetrating skills, but last night they were unable to duplicate the feat.
"It's very different playing against 7-2," Darsch said, referring to Dydek's height and physical presence. "It's something you can't simulate."
The Mystics were forced to take mostly jumpers and three-point shots in the first half and trailed 36-30 at the break. The Starzz (5-6) made 4 of 6 shots to open the second half, including a three-pointer by Baranova, and the Mystics couldn't keep up.
The Mystics were forced to shoot from the outside, and, as has been the case this season, they were ineffective and finished 4 for 13 from long range. Utah Coach Fred Williams saw that the Mystics were not effective from the outside and went to a zone defense to force those shots.
"We played the percentages," he said. "We wanted them to take those shots."
It appeared as if the Mystics were in a good position to make a run with 7 minutes 56 seconds left in the second half and trailing by 17 when Dydek was removed with five personal fouls. She had been responsible for three blocks and several altered shots. But the Mystics still couldn't reduce the lead. Utah forwards Natalie Williams (14 points) and Palmer wouldn't allow it.
While the Mystics were successful in transition, their half-court offense seemed passive. They weren't able to get the ball inside to Alessandra Santos de Oliveira when she was open and they didn't penetrate to create close shots.
"We wanted to force them to take a lot of outside shots," Fred Williams said. "We knew that McCray and Holdsclaw would take a lot of shots, but we wanted to try to contain them. They did an okay job against it by cutting down low, but we set the tone."
LIBERTY 84, ROCKERS 49: In Cleveland, Sophia Witherspoon made four three-pointers and scored 22 points. The Liberty (8-4) shot 56 percent and held the Rockers (2-12) to less than 24 percent. New York led by as many as 22 in the first half, which ended with the Liberty up 38-25. New York made 9 of 19 three-point attempts, and Cleveland was 2 for 17.
MONARCHS 74, COMETS 63: Ruthie Bolton-Holifield scored 20 points and host Sacramento surprised league-leading Houston, the two-time defending champion Comets' second loss in 13 games. It was only the sixth loss in the last two seasons for Houston (11-2), which has gone 42-6 over that span. The Comets' only other loss this season was to Orlando, 68-66.
CAPTION: Utah's Natalie Williams (14 points) shadows Nikki McCray (20 points).
CAPTION: Utah's 7-foot-2 center Margo Dydek is too tall an order for Murriel Page. "I don't think we showed up to play," said Chamique Holdsclaw (23 points).