During a TV timeout midway through the second half, some Washington Mystics players threw towels as they walked to the bench, and Coach Nancy Darsch sat with her head down amid boos from the crowd. Despite 23 points from forward Chamique Holdsclaw, the Mystics lost their fourth straight, 85-68 to the Cleveland Rockers at MCI Center yesterday.
Against a clearly frustrated Mystics team, Cleveland set a WNBA single-game record for best shooting percentage, connecting on 63.2 percent of its field goal attempts. The Rockers (5-14) were led by forward Eva Nemcova (19 points) and a group of reserves that outscored the Mystics bench 41-15.
But most of the blame for the loss fell squarely on the slumping shoulders of the Mystics (5-13), who were coming off a 25-point loss to Orlando at MCI Center on Monday. At one point, Washington trailed by 26 points to Cleveland, a team that hadn't won on the road all season and was playing without one of its best players, guard Suzie McConnell-Serio, who has a broken foot.
The loss came before an announced sellout crowd of 20,674 in a rare 11:45 a.m. game. The team sold more than 10,000 tickets to youth day camps.
"We just have to stay focused and stay really positive and truly, truly believe in ourselves," Darsch said. ". . . But right now, we're used and abused."
The Mystics haven't led during their last 85 minutes of play. Aside from Holdsclaw, Washington's starters shot 10 for 29 and committed 10 turnovers.
Cleveland jumped out to an 18-3 lead during the first 7 minutes 20 seconds of the game. After Washington turned over the ball for the fourth consecutive possession, Darsch pulled the starting lineup.
A Cleveland player said it wasn't difficult to defend the Mystics.
"They weren't playing as a team," Cleveland guard Michelle Edwards said. "They have two players that do their own thing, and you really don't have to defend five people."
During a timeout with 7:56 left in the first half, Darsch pulled McCray aside after McCray had missed a jump shot and said, "You can't do it one-on-one all the time."
McCray, who missed 10 of her 12 shots, said she is frustrated with her -- and the team's -- offensive performance.
"I should be able to [have the freedom to create on offense], but I want to do it within the team," McCray said. ". . . I want to be able to have a little more freedom, but whatever happens, happens. I just try to deal within the system. It's painful, yeah, and I know my shot is struggling right now, so I want to do other things, whether it be assists or defense to help the team. But tonight I didn't do either so I'm just disappointed."
The Mystics trailed 47-27 at halftime. After Nemcova made a baseline jumper, Edwards converted two free throws and Merlakia Jones (16 points) hit two shots, the lead grew to 58-32. The Mystics missed six of their first eight shots to open the half.
"We couldn't make a shot, and when you're not scoring, it should make you want to bear down on defense, but it wasn't the case," Holdsclaw said. "When people say you can't play as a team, it [ticks] me off. But we're just not getting the job done, and I'm so frustrated."
The Mystics outscored Cleveland 41-27 to close the game, but the contest's outcome was never in doubt.
Searching for a solution to her team's problems, Darsch canceled today's practice, choosing to give everyone a day off before the team plays its next six games on the road, beginning in Minnesota on Friday night.
"We are drained," Holdsclaw said. "We need a spark, something. We have mental fatigue. We just have to go out and do what we need to do to relax, and hopefully come back rejuvenated."
CAPTION: Nikki McCray falls to the floor as she tries to dribble around Cleveland's Michelle Edwards. McCray, who said she is struggling, missed 10 of 12 shots.