Mystics 67, Monarchs 63

Shrugging off last Saturday's 27-point thrashing and one of the season's worst shooting performances, the Washington Mystics continued to cling to their fading playoff hopes last night by defeating the Sacramento Monarchs, 67-63, in overtime at MCI Center.

"We stuck together as a team," said rookie Alana Beard, who finished with 20 points on 9-of-21 shooting. "We came in and played great rotation defense. This team never gives up."

The Mystics took a 65-63 lead with 1 minute 34 seconds remaining in overtime when Nakia Sanford sank her only field goal of the game, a jump hook in front of the basket. Sacramento failed to convert and Murriel Page sealed the victory for Washington after getting fouled by the Monarchs' Ticha Penicheiro on the Mystics' next possession. She sank both free throws with six seconds on the clock.

Their record at 13-16, the last-place Mystics broke a two-game losing streak and made up a half game on the first-place New York Liberty, trailing now by two games. Four Mystics scored in double figures, balance the team had been missing.

Washington stumped the Monarchs, who came in with a four-game winning streak, by thwarting former WNBA most valuable player Yolanda Griffith for most of the evening.

Perhaps most important for Washington, the club is now 3-3 without star forward Chamique Holdsclaw in the lineup. The team had dropped its two previous games and it appeared that it was rudderless without its leading scorer and rebounder.

Holdsclaw, who is out with an undisclosed medical ailment, was missing from the Mystics' bench for a second home game. Typically, injured athletes cheer their teammates on from the sideline but a Mystics spokeswoman said team executives had excused her.

The Mystics opened the game by zipping crisp passes to each other, finding open shooters and, more importantly, sinking those shots. Last Saturday, they shot a dismal 25 percent against the Indiana Fever. Beard set the tone by hitting a three-point basket to put the Mystics up 11-7 with 15:50 left in the half.

On defense, the Mystics ganged up on Griffith, one of the league's toughest inside scorers, every time she touched the ball. The 6-foot-4, 175-pound Griffith, who repossessed cars for a living while in college, was held to four points in the first half and finished with eight, half of her season average.

Beard, the Mystics' top draft pick this year, is a whirling, twisting, offensive power, but is still prone to making poor decisions. She forced her shots, but still managed to hit 6 of 11 field goal attempts and turned the ball over four times in the first half.

The Monarchs began finding forward Demya Walker inside, where she hit layups. Sacramento went on a 13-1 run to tie the score at 32 with 3:29 remaining.

Beard again fueled a Mystics 8-0 run to open the second half by scoring their first five points, including a three-point basket. And just like the first half, the Mystics couldn't protect their lead.

They avoided getting dismantled near the basket early but then the Monarchs began seizing position inside. Despite all the Mystics' efforts, Sacramento began to score layups and put back missed shots. The Monarchs took a 58-54 lead on free throws by Walker with 3:06 left to play.

The Mystics mounted their own rally behind forward Chasity Melvin, who scored on a bank shot and layup to tie the game at 58. Melvin had a chance to win the game in regulation after she was fouled by Sacramento's Penicheiro but missed both free throws with two seconds left on the clock.

Washington's Alana Beard slips past Sacramento defender Edna Campbell in first half. Beard scored 20 points to help Mystics end two-game losing streak.