Sting 71, Mystics 68

Washington Mystics forward Chamique Holdsclaw took the microphone and center court at MCI Center last night before the team's season opener and made the home crowd, which had just been recognized as the 2003 WNBA attendance champions, a promise.

"This year, we are going to bring it," Holdsclaw said. "You're going to get your money's worth this year."

Despite a 71-68 loss to the Charlotte Sting, Holdsclaw (a game-high 25 points) and the Mystics held true to the vow.

Washington launched a second-half rally from 13 points down, coming back to hold the lead and battle through a back-and-forth flurry at game's end. The Sting had the last word, however, when Allison Feaster, fresh off a flight from France where she played during the offseason, made a short jump shot from the left of the key to give Charlotte the game's final lead, 69-68, with 1 minute 8 seconds to play.

A Holdsclaw miss on the other end gave possession back to Charlotte, but the Mystics tightened up defensively and thought they had forced the Sting into a shot-clock violation. Despite Washington Coach Michael Adams's pleading from the sideline, the officials instead ruled that an off-balance jumper by Andrea Stinson was released before the buzzer sounded.

"I thought it was late, but I don't get paid to officiate, too," said Holdsclaw, who also had six rebounds. "I say it was . . . but they have the final word."

"The call could have gone either way," said Adams, making his debut as a head coach. "I was hoping that the officials would give us the benefit of the doubt."

Charlotte Smith-Taylor chased down the long rebound for the Sting. Washington was forced to foul and Smith-Taylor made a pair of free throws to make it 71-68.

Alana Beard, the touted rookie the Mystics made the second overall pick in the WNBA draft last month, missed a three-pointer on Washington's final possession to account for the final margin. Beard scored 10 points in her debut.

"It came down to the wire," Holdsclaw said. "And that's a tough way to lose. . . . But I'm glad we had a game like this where we had to fight. I thought we came out in the second half and played tremendous. Now we know what we can do."

The Mystics walked off the court to a standing ovation from the crowd of 18,332, which groaned in disappointment and exhaustion after Beard's final shot missed.

"I just don't think we had the energy we needed in the end," said guard Tamicha Jackson (17 points, 4 assists). "That comeback took a lot out of us. I don't think the [13 points] were too much because we came all the way back and even took the lead, but the energy we had to exert was too much."

Charlotte (1-1) had taken its biggest lead of the game, 46-33, on a short jumper by Stinson with 15:04 remaining in the second half, but Washington responded with a 12-0 run to pull within a point on a pull-up jumper by Jackson. Jackson, acquired in an offseason trade with Phoenix, scored half of the Mystics' points during that critical stretch.

"She was the catalyst in the second half," Adams said. "Her offense really helped keep the team in the game. She is not really a scorer, but I hope that the other players will follow her lead in the games to come."

Once the Mystics drew even, the teams traded baskets, turnovers, fouls and, most importantly, the lead, throughout the final nine minutes.

The loss only slightly dampened the fans' excitement, which began in earnest during the team's pregame street fair, where hundreds lined the streets outside MCI Center and danced in celebration of the sport, and hit a peak during elaborate player introductions to a laser lights show. During the game they cheered the skills of Holdsclaw, the athletic ability and all-out hustle of Beard, the shooting touch of Jackson and the inside presence of another newly acquired veteran, Chasity Melvin -- this season's first starting five.

The combination of the new coach and so many new player additions to the team has fans still feeling optimistic about the new season.

"I think they're going to make it all the way to the championship game," said 14-year-old Kiara Bates, a student at Jefferson Junior High in the District who was attending her first opening game. "Because this year we have more energy. They've added a lot of good players . . . they just have to keep playing together."

Sting's Dawn Staley, left, makes life difficult for Mystics' Tamicha Jackson at MCI Center. Staley, a former U-Va. star, scored 12 points for Charlotte, which is 1-1.Mystics Coach Michael Adams tries to think up an answer for the Sting as he heads to loss in first game in charge of WNBA team. Mystics' Chamique Holdsclaw takes aim over Sting's Charlotte Smith-Taylor in Washington's season opener. Holdsclaw had 25 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists.