Shock 76, Mystics 62

Grim-faced and avoiding the usual pregame banter, the Detroit Shock strutted down the hallway toward the visiting locker room with a purpose that carried over to its game against the Washington Mystics last night at MCI Center.

When Detroit's 76-62 victory over the Mystics was complete, two statistics jumped off the page. Detroit outrebounded the Mystics 44-24, and attempted twice as many free throws, 32-16.

Shock forward Cheryl Ford almost outrebounded Washington's starting lineup by herself. Ford's 18 rebounds, 15 points and 4 assists -- along with a few well-placed Shock elbows and plenty of hustle -- gave Detroit its second victory in eight games and moved it within a half-game of Washington for third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Mystics shot only 37.5 percent and dropped to 8-8 after losing for only the second time in seven games.

"If you get outrebounded 44-24, you better shoot 60 percent to win and the foul line didn't help either," Mystics Coach Richie Adubato said. "They wore us out, they wore us out on the glass no doubt about it."

This was a grind-it-out affair from the opening tip, with players fighting for open shots and rebounding position and the head coaches scrapping for every call.

At one point during the first half, referee Leslie Claybrook found herself sandwiched between red-faced Shock coach Bill Laimbeer and his assistant, Rick Mahorn, a fate that met many an opposing player when Laimbeer and Mahorn were throwing elbows and winning championships for the Detroit Pistons.

For the first time in a long time, Laimbeer and Mahorn's passion was matched by their team. With all-star Swin Cash playing only her second game after undergoing offseason knee surgery, the Shock continued to struggle offensively, shooting just 34.4 percent in the first half.

However, Detroit made up for it by pounding Washington on the boards. The Mystics were outrebounded 24-10 in the first half and had a particularly tough time boxing out Ford, Karl Malone's daughter.

Ford, who came into the game averaging 9.5 rebounds, grabbed 10 in the half and gave Detroit its 36-33 halftime lead when she snatched an offensive rebound, laid it in, drew a foul on Murriel Page and made her free throw.

The Mystics came out with more energy to start the second half and took a 46-42 lead after Chasity Melvin completed a three-point play with 14 minutes 55 seconds remaining.

However, following a quick timeout and chewing out by Laimbeer, the Shock clamped down on defense and charged back. Deanna Nolan made a three-pointer from the corner to give Detroit a 51-48 lead at the 11:22 mark and later chased down Alana Beard and slapped Beard's layup attempt off the backboard to preserve a 57-51 lead with 7:24 remaining.

Detroit then blew the game open with a 12-3 run, which included seven points from Ford.

"This Detroit team, to me, is better than the team that won the championship," said Adubato, referring to Detroit's 2003 WNBA championship team. "They are the biggest, deepest team in the league. In the second half [of the season] they are going to be very difficult to deal with."

The Mystics won't play at MCI Center again until July 26, when they host Houston. Until then, they will try to survive a five-game Western Conference road swing.

It will be the longest trip of the season and will include stops at defending champion Seattle, Western Conference-leading Sacramento and Houston, which has won six straight.

"I experienced worse when I was with Los Angeles," said forward DeLisha Milton-Jones, who spent six seasons with the Sparks. "It's not going to be easy and we know that so it's a matter of getting through it. It's important that we come out of this trip in good shape."

Mystics Notes: Beard, who scored 12 points, rolled her left ankle late in the game but did not leave the court. Beard is expected to be ready to play in tomorrow's All-Star Game.

* LIBERTY 89, SUN 79: Shameka Christon scored eight straight points, including the go-ahead three-pointer with 1 minute 47 seconds remaining, and host New York closed with a 26-9 run to beat first-place Connecticut.

Christon finished with 14 points, Ann Wauters had a career-high 23 points and eight rebounds, and Becky Hammon added 20 points and eight assists for the Liberty, which had its highest scoring total of the season.

Lindsay Whalen scored a career-high 24 points, and Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 13 points and eight rebounds for the Sun (12-3).

* COMETS 65, FEVER 63: Janeth Arcain scored the winning basket with 2.7 seconds remaining as visiting Houston won its sixth straight.

Arcain, who finished with 16 points, scored both of Houston's baskets in the final 36 seconds, both of them jumpers on assists from Sheryl Swoopes.

Swoopes scored all 14 of her points in the second half for Houston. Tamika Catchings led Indiana with 26 points, but her 22-foot shot at the buzzer bounced off the rim.

* STING 66, LYNX 58: Allison Feaster scored 19 points, including five three-pointers, to help Charlotte halt a three-game losing streak before only 4,071 home fans. Tangela Smith had 15 points for Charlotte, and Tammy Sutton-Brown added 13.