After an 81-64 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday night, the Washington Mystics can no longer claim to be better than any of the WNBA's other 11 teams. Their 6-17 record matches Cleveland's for the league's worst.

"We're definitely showing our youth at times," said Coach Nancy Darsch, whose team has lost eight of its last nine games. Seven of those defeats, including the last four, have come by double-digit margins. The Mystics complete a six-game road trip Monday night against the Detroit Shock (10-12).

The Mystics' 11-player active roster includes just three players (guards Markita Aldridge and Nikki McCray and center Valerie Still) with at least two full seasons of professional experience. Four others have one year of pro experience, two played one full season and a portion of a second in the defunct American Basketball League and two are rookies.

"We just need to step up and take some challenges," Darsch said. "When other teams become the aggressor and challenge us, we sometimes can't stand united and make a united stop or attack."

The Sparks' defense, directed by assistant coach Michael Cooper, a five-time selection to the NBA's all-defensive first team, took forward Chamique Holdsclaw out of the game. She missed nine of her first 11 shots and was held to four points until there were 10 minutes 13 seconds to play and the Sparks virtually had ensured victory with a 17-point lead.

"[La'Keshia] Frett definitely did a nice job on her and [Mwadi] Mabika as well," Darsch said. "They're very athletic. She always has at least two people in her path. When we tried to post her up, they brought a post player in to help. Any time she penetrated, she was running into a brick wall. I also think they were pretty physical with her."

Playing before a crowd announced at 7,716 at the Forum, the Sparks took a 10-2 lead as the Mystics missed seven of their first eight shots and were outrebounded 8-1. But the Mystics outscored Los Angeles 23-20 the remainder of the half, despite allowing 9-2 and 5-0 runs. The Mystics went on an 8-2 spurt to close the half, and trailed 30-25 at halftime.

The Sparks regained control at the start of the second half with six consecutive points as the Mystics committed two turnovers and missed two shots in their first four possessions. McCray and Shalonda Enis's three-point baskets and Murriel Page's layup cut Los Angeles' lead to 40-33 with 16:37 remaining, but the Sparks scored seven straight points.

Los Angeles (16-6) completed a six-game homestand undefeated and has won 13 of its last 15.

LIBERTY 74, MIRACLE 61: Vickie Johnson scored 18 points as New York beat Orlando before 14,719 at Madison Square Garden to move within a half-game of Eastern Conference-leading Charlotte. Tamika Whitmore added 14 points for the Liberty (12-10).

Nykesha Sales had 21 points and eight rebounds for Orlando (9-13), which has lost eight of 10.


Data: vs. Detroit Shock.

Where: The Palace of Auburn Hills.

When: 7:30 p.m.

Radio: WGAY-1260.

Records: Mystics 6-17, Shock 10-12.

Injuries: Mystics F Penny Moore (shoulder) is on the injured list. Shock F Rachael Sporn (right knee) is on the injured list; F Lesley Brown (left ankle) will play.