Mystics 77, Mercury 56

The Washington Mystics were well on their way to an easy victory over the Phoenix Mercury last night when MCI Center nearly witnessed its second boxing match in two weeks. Instead of a washed-up Mike Tyson and no-name Kevin McBride, the contenders were Mystics forward DeLisha Milton-Jones and Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi.

First, the final score. The Mystics won, 77-56, to improve to 5-6. Now, the scrap. Milton-Jones hit a three-pointer to put the Mystics up, 71-53, with 1 minute 44 seconds remaining. Taurasi, who was visibly frustrated throughout the second half, appeared to veer in front of Milton-Jones as the two players sprinted back upcourt. Both players went down in front of the scorer's table. Taurasi got up but Milton-Jones stayed on the floor.

Play continued for a few moments and when Taurasi made her way back downcourt after a Phoenix miss, she was intercepted by Milton-Jones, who rushed Taurasi and appeared to cock her arm back as if to throw a punch. Luckily for Milton-Jones and perhaps Taurasi, Mystics forward Chasity Melvin raced in and shoved Milton-Jones away. Taurasi, who earlier was called for a foul after swinging elbows at Alana Beard and Melvin while grabbing a rebound, was slapped with a technical foul. Milton-Jones was ejected.

"She blindsided me," said Milton-Jones, who finished with 12 points. "That's what they were doing all night. We'd be running downcourt and they'd run in front of you and just stop. I'm not going to tolerate that. I reacted and I know I could have reacted differently, but my emotions got the best of me at that point."

Taurasi, who had a few choice words for the referees as they left the court, said she didn't cheap-shot Milton-Jones. She didn't exactly apologize for the confrontation, either.

"I'm not going to back down to anyone, so if she wants to come after people, I'm going to be right there," said Taurasi, who finished with 16 points and five assists in 35 minutes. "It's a good thing she didn't get to me."

When asked about the collision a second time, Taurasi offered another explanation. "We were just standing there and she fell down. I don't know. Maybe it's the weight room. I've been spending a lot of time in there lately."

The loss dropped the Mercury to 3-8, which probably explains why Taurasi is so frustrated. At the University of Connecticut, Taurasi won three straight national championships and became one of the most popular players in college sports. So far in Phoenix, her record is 20-25 and she's not getting a lot of help from her teammates.

After trailing only 38-36 at halftime, Phoenix fell apart. The Mercury made 1 of 10 three-pointers during the second half, turned over the ball 13 times and was unable to stop Beard, who scored 10 of her game-high 19 points in the second half. Mercury players appeared to channel their energy toward the referees.

Taurasi spent a large part of the second half talking to the referees, Phoenix Coach Carrie Graf picked up a technical foul after arguing a call at the 10:23 mark and forward Plenette Pierson had to be restrained from going into the Mystics' huddle after she and Beard got tangled up.

When it was all over, Beard was sitting inside the Mystics' locker room holding a bag of ice over a quickly swelling left cheek and Milton-Jones had a bag of ice strapped to her right knee.

"Doesn't matter," Beard said. "We got the win."

* LIBERTY 77, SILVER STARS 59: Ann Wauters tied a career high with 20 points, and Becky Hammon added 17 and a season-high nine assists to lead New York at home. Shameka Christon added 14 points for the Liberty (5-4), winner of three straight and four of five.

Chantelle Anderson and Marie Ferdinand scored 14 points apiece for San Antonio (2-10), which lost its fourth straight. The Silver Stars dropped to 0-6 on the road in the opener of a four-game trip. They also began a stretch in which they play seven of 10 on the road.

Wauters also had eight rebounds and had her highest point total since also scoring 20 against Utah on June 30, 2002, while playing for the Cleveland Rockers.

The Mystics' Nakia Sanford, left, and Coco Miller struggle for the rebound against the Mercury's Ashley Robinson.