Fever 83, Mystics 80

The preseason is a time for learning. That is what the Washington Mystics told themselves following an 83-80 loss to the Indiana Fever in a preseason game in front of 6,017 last night at MCI Center.

"I don't consider this a loss," said rookie Alana Beard, who scored 17 points to go with 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. "Yeah, the score was 80-83, but we got so many . . . valuable things from this game."

After Indiana's Tamika Catchings made a long three-pointer that tied the score at 80 with 29 seconds left, Washington called a timeout after it inbounded the ball. If the Mystics had called the timeout prior to the inbounds pass, they would've regained possession at midcourt; instead, they got the ball under their own basket.

The Mystics tried to hold the ball for the last shot, but Beard's pass to Chamique Holdsclaw went out of bounds with 4.7 seconds remaining. Indiana guard Kelly Miller, the twin sister of the Mystics' Coco, scored the winning points on a layup and foul shot.

"Miscommunication," Beard said of the turnover. "That's the one thing I learned from this scrimmage, that we've got to communicate better throughout the entire game. We were running a play, but we didn't run the play correctly, we didn't execute it. It was my fault."

Beard didn't start, which was a bit of a change for the consensus collegiate national player of the year. She holds the school record for career starts (136) at Duke, and couldn't remember the last time she had to come off of the bench.

But very little seemed to faze Beard. At one point late in the first half, she lost both of her contact lenses as she blocked a three-point attempt by Kelly Miller. Beard couldn't find one of the lenses; she simply popped the one she did find into her mouth for safekeeping, and continued to play for another minute.

Beard made a bad pass that resulted in a steal -- when Mystics Coach Michael Adams asked her what she was doing, she replied that she couldn't see -- and she missed a long jumper. Finally, she headed to the bench and put her lenses back in (she keeps a couple of spares on the bench).

Holdsclaw led the Mystics with 27 points on 12-of-19 shooting; Coco Miller scored 17 points, making 8 of 9 shots.

Catchings had 25 points and seven assists for the Fever.

Washington was outrebounded 35-23. But inside help arrived when Chasity Melvin, the 6-foot-3 veteran center the Mystics picked up in the dispersal draft in January, completed her season in Poland and greeted the Mystics as they ran off the floor after the game.

"We didn't do a good job of rebounding the ball, and that was one of our weaknesses last year," said Adams, who is in his first year. "We still had a chance to win the game. We wanted to take the last shot, but we ended up turning the ball over."