The Washington Mystics' tumultuous season hangs in the balance tonight in Uncasville, Conn., and the team is bracing for what Coach Michael Adams is calling a "dogfight" when they visit the Sun for the decisive Game 3 of their WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals.

"We're asking ourselves, 'How much effort are you prepared to give?' " said guard Tamicha Jackson. "I know we're prepared to give it all."

A victory sends the Mystics to the conference finals for the second time in three years. They would play the New York Liberty, which advanced last night with a 66-64 win.

The Mystics are coming off an 80-70 loss in Game 2. They trailed by 19, never led and by all accounts were never really in the game.

"They forced us to set our offense [farther from the basket] than we wanted," said Adams. "As a result we took a lot of poor shots. We won't do that next time. I guarantee it."

During the Mystics' late-season, five-game winning streak that boosted them into the playoffs, the offense thrived on sharp passing. The attack was patient and precise, the offense predicated on finding open shooters instead of forcing poor shots. It was something of a new approach after the midseason loss of leading scorer Chamique Holdsclaw to an undisclosed "private medical condition."

With Holdsclaw in the lineup, the offense was often focused on the low post. The team finally adjusted, however, and field goal percentages rose. As did assist totals.

The club averaged 10.4 assists during the streak and never shot below 40 percent. In the Mystics' 67-59 Game 1 victory Saturday, guard Alana Beard distributed five of the team's 14 assists.

In contrast, Washington posted only six assists and shot 39.3 percent in Monday's loss. The club also turned the ball over 15 times to the Sun's 12.

Adams's plan for Game 3 is for his players to attack the basket, just like the Sun did in Game 2.

"We're going to drive inside and make the referees give us some calls," Adams said. Connecticut went to the foul line 32 times, hitting 30 (93.8 percent). The Mystics sank 22 of their 24 free throws (91.7 percent).

As for the Mystics' chances tonight, the players have pointed out that their best performances come during the most dire periods.