With Phoenix point guard Michele Timms back in the Mercury lineup, Washington Coach Nancy Darsch knew that stopping the transition game would be crucial in her team's effort to win its second of six straight road games. She also knew the potential of all-star selection Jennifer Gillom.
"Gillom is always a target for focus. You definitely have to focus on Gillom if you have a chance of beating Phoenix," Darsch said.
The defensive focus kept Gillom (16 points) at her 15.7 per game average, but it wasn't enough as Phoenix charged to a 72-59 victory over Washington tonight in front of 11,776 fans at America West Arena.
The loss is the fifth in six outings for Washington and gives it a 4-5 mark on the road.
The Phoenix transition game came alive with about 10 minutes to go in the game and the Mercury holding a 45-43 advantage.
Edna Campbell (12 points) made her second three-pointer of the game, Marlies Askamp (11 points) scored from underneath and reserve Bridget Pettis scored two quick fast-break baskets. It was part of a run that gave Phoenix (8-11) a 55-43 advantage and Washington (6-14) couldn't recover.
Nikki McCray (18 points) and Chamique Holdsclaw (17 points) rebounded from a sluggish first half in which McCray managed just six points and Holdsclaw four.
Phoenix jumped out to a 6-0 lead to start the game, but Washington went on a 14-7 run and took a 14-13 lead on Markita Aldridge's putback with 11 minutes 27 seconds to go. McCray followed with a layup off of the fast break for a 16-13 lead. It was the last lead the Mystics would hold.
Maria Stepanova (nine points) scored the next five points and the Mercury built their largest lead of the half at 31-22 with 22 seconds to play on a pair of free throws by the recently re-signed Toni Foster.
"Stepanova definitely creates a problem for us because we don't have anybody taller than 6-4," Darsch said. "With her being 6-8, that's definitely a challenge for us."
First-half foul trouble helped contain Stepanova and starter Askamp. Both spent much of the first half in foul trouble with three apiece.
Phoenix, which lost 10 of its first 13 games, has put together an impressive four-game home streak and has won five of its last six games. Last year's WNBA finalists, however, remain 4 1/2 games shy of a playoff berth in the West. Phoenix rallied from a 19-point deficit in the first meeting this season and escaped from MCI Center with a 79-76 victory. Four Mystics players scored in double figures in that game, but it wasn't enough.
"We had some close losses at home where we had the lead and we let things slip away," Darsch said. "[Phoenix] happened to be one of them. We were [starting to jell] before the all-star break and the little break, plus the injury to Chamique [fingertip fracture] kind of broke our rhythm a little bit."
Washington was looking for its first back-to-back victories since winning at Detroit, 83-78, and edging Charlotte at home, 74-71, prior to the all-star break.
The Mystics, 2-9 at home, had hoped that tonight's road game would help them find their groove. Recent roster changes have given the Mystics a different look from the last time the teams met. And the Mercury's leading scorer the first game -- Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil (23 points) -- has since been released.
Darsch isn't worried. Washington has four more chances to win on the road before returning home.
"A lot of times on the road you get more rest, you have fewer distractions, you have less pressure and sometimes teams respond better on the road than they do at home," Darsch said. "Getting on the road has been good for us. We have a lot of confidence on the road."
STING 78, SHOCK 66: Dawn Staley had 13 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds -- barely missing the WNBA's first triple-double -- to lead visiting Charlotte over short-handed Detroit.
Vicky Bullett added 20 points and Rhonda Mapp had 16 points and eight rebounds for the Sting. Korie Hlede scored a season-high 22 points for the Shock, which had a five-game winning streak snapped; Jennifer Azzi added 16 points.
Detroit almost had to suit up Coach Nancy Lieberman-Cline to avoid forfeiting the game. With Dominique Canty, Val Whiting and Astou Ndiaye serving suspensions because of a fight in Friday's game at Cleveland, and Rachael Sporn out with a knee injury suffered in the same contest, the team was down to seven players -- one under the minimum.
But the WNBA allowed the Shock to defer Ndiaye's suspension until Tuesday's game at Houston. The team located her in a local supermarket and she arrived at the arena just 15 minutes before game time.
COMETS 62, LYNX 57: Cynthia Cooper scored 20 points and Houston held off a late rally to win on the road.
Data: vs. Utah Starzz.
Where: Delta Center.
When: 9 p.m.
Records: Mystics 6-14, Starzz 6-12.
Injuries: Mystics F Penny Moore (shoulder) is on the injured list. Starzz reported no injuries.