Comets 83, Mystics 65

It was just last week when the Washington Mystics rolled into Houston's Toyota Center for a rare weekday matinee and made the Comets look sluggish in front of a packed arena filled with enthusiastic young summer campers.

Yesterday, Sheryl Swoopes, Janeth Arcain and the Comets returned the favor. Playing for the first time since beating Houston last Thursday, the Mystics were unable to stop the hot-shooting Comets on their way to an 83-65 loss in front of a season-high, midday crowd of 16,654 at MCI Center on Camp Day.

The Comets shot a franchise-record 65.4 percent and maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half. Arcain scored a season-high 23 points on 11-of-15 shooting while Swoopes showed that she still might be the best player in the WNBA by scoring 17 points and contributing eight assists in 35 minutes.

The Mystics (11-11) shot a solid 49 percent but were out-rebounded 25-18 and could never get back into the game during a rough second half. Guard Alana Beard scored 16 points and was one of four Washington starters to reach double figures, but that hardly mattered on a day when all eight Houston players shot at least 50 percent.

"We had no answer for them today," Mystics Coach Richie Adubato said as he glanced over a stat sheet with a look of disbelief. "We couldn't stop them."

This game could be summarized by two Houston possessions early in the second half. Washington had drawn within 41-35 on a layup by forward DeLisha Milton-Jones. Adubato rose off the home bench and screamed for his team to fall back into a zone defense. The Mystics had struggled to cut off Houston's penetration in their man-to-man defense and Adubato had viewed tape of the Comets' troubles handling a zone during a loss to Los Angeles on Saturday, so his thinking was that a zone might slow Houston.

The problem was that as the Mystics set up in their zone, they didn't pay enough attention to the most dangerous player. Swoopes floated to the perimeter, set up on the wing and swished a long three-pointer. On their very next possession, the Comets worked the ball around to Swoopes again and she hit another three-pointer, this one from NBA range, giving Houston a 47-37 lead. Adubato quickly called a timeout and got out of the zone, but the Mystics never drew within seven points again.

"It just seemed like everybody got deflated when they kept hitting shots," said Mystics forward Charlotte Smith-Taylor. "We have to be tougher than that. We can't let a team hit a couple of tough shots and then say: 'Oh well, we can't stop them.' That's what we can take from this game. Mental toughness. We can't let ourselves get deflated like that."

The loss dropped the Mystics to 5-6 at MCI Center. Four of Washington's next five games will be at home and that should provide a nice boost heading into the season's final 12 games.

"I've understood how important all of these games are from Day One because last year, the Eastern Conference was a rat race," Smith-Taylor said. "We have to win these games because we don't want to be coming down the stretch having to rely on other teams to help us. We have to take care of things ourselves."

* SILVER STARS 78, LYNX 71: Marie Ferdinand scored 14 points in the second half and host San Antonio snapped a five-game losing streak.

* SUN 68, FEVER 55: Nykesha Sales scored 19 points and Margo Dydek had 12 defensive rebounds and five blocked shots to lead Connecticut at home.

* MERCURY 77, SPARKS 66: Kamila Vodichkova scored 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting and grabbed six rebounds to lead host Phoenix.

* MONARCHS 64, STING 54: Yolanda Griffith had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Nicole Powell added 15 points in Sacramento's home victory.

Mystics' Chasity Melvin (14 points, five rebounds) shoots over the Comets' Michelle Snow. Mystics' Alana Beard is trapped in the corner by the Comets' Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes (right).