Mystics 65, Lynx 61

The Washington Mystics said they found a new Alana Beard last night.

Beard said she just rediscovered the old one.

In a 65-61 win over the Minnesota Lynx at MCI Center, the highly touted rookie played better than she ever had in a WNBA uniform -- and as well as she usually did during a dominant four-year career at Duke. Beard scored 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting to help the Mystics end a three-game losing streak. She also lifted them to a sixth consecutive win at home, improving their record to 10-12, more wins than they had all of last season.

"Some people might think this is new, but this is what I know I can play like," Beard said. "My hard work is paying off. I'm getting into a groove now, so it seems like a change."

She seemed totally remodeled yesterday: new look, new game, new attitude.

With a white headband wrapped under her braids, Beard -- often quiet and timid -- flashed a fiery competitiveness that spilled into fist pumps and screams.

She drove hard to the basket and drew fouls twice in the game's final two minutes, making all four free throws to give the Mystics a four-point lead.

The Lynx never recovered, throwing up two desperate three-pointers before the buzzer sounded. Its hopes may have been dashed much earlier, though, when star Katie Smith (19 points) left the game midway through the second half with a knee injury.

"For a long time, this game could have gone either way," Mystics Coach Michael Adams said. "Alana kept us in the game, that's for sure. She did what we know she can do: drive hard and score points in bunches."

And Beard did it all while playing point guard, a position where she admittedly feels uncomfortable. Tamicha Jackson, the Mystics' starting point guard, went on the injured list yesterday with a strained knee, meaning she will not be back for at least two more games. Stacey Dales-Schuman, also capable of playing the point, sat out yesterday with a sore heel.

Worse yet, Chamique Holdsclaw had her worst game of the season, making 3 of 17 shots.

Only Beard proved reliable. More than halfway through the season, she's finally beginning to look like the No. 2 pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft. She's led the Mystics in scoring the last four games, something she never did earlier this season.

Instead of tossing up difficult, three-point jumpers, she's driving fearlessly to the basket. "I don't care who's guarding me anymore," Beard said Thursday.

"I'm going to drive on everyone."

"She's so much more aggressive, so much more confident," Smith said. "You can just tell that she has a confidence to her now that I haven't seen before. She looks like she's going to be a force in this league."

Beard might have been better off yesterday if she hadn't passed the ball, especially in the first half. She had as many field goals in the first 20 minutes (six) as the rest of her teammates combined. The difference? Beard made all six of her shots in the half, while her teammates shot 22 percent.

The Mystics negated every Beard success with a series of malfunctions. Beard hit back-to-back jumpers in the first two minutes; her teammates turned the ball over on the following three possessions.

Beard swooped to the basket for a crowd-pleasing, left-handed layup to give the Mystics a 28-24 lead; the Mystics failed to make a single field goal over the next six minutes.

"You can't have everything working all the time," Mystics forward Murriel Page said. "But we had Alana going, and she really picked us up."

* SHOCK 63, STING 53: Swin Cash had 16 points and a season-high 14 rebounds to lead Detroit at home.

Ruth Riley, named to join Cash on the U.S. Olympic team earlier in the week, also had 16 for Detroit. Cheryl Ford added nine points and nine rebounds for the Shock (11-12), winners for just the second time in six games.

Charlotte (10-11) lost its fourth straight.

Olympian Dawn Staley led the Sting with 12 points, and Allison Feaster added 10.

Detroit used a 21-7 rebounding edge to open a 30-21 lead at halftime. Cash had eight rebounds for the Shock in the opening 20 minutes.

* SPARKS 70, COMETS 67: Mwadi Mabika scored 19 points to lead host Los Angeles to victory.

Lisa Leslie added 16 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocked shots for the Western Confernence leading Sparks.

Keisha Brown gets her hands on the ball to begin a fast break for the Mystics, who won their sixth straight at home.