Mystics 65, Sting 63

The story of the Washington Mystics' 65-63 victory over the Charlotte Sting at MCI Center last night could be told by examining one second-half possession.

Mystics guard Alana Beard, who was in the midst of an ice-cold shooting night, missed a jumper, had a layup roll in and out and had a shot blocked, all within a matter of seconds. After all of that frustration, veteran forward Murriel Page saved the trip by swishing a baseline jumper.

It was the kind of night when nothing came easy for the Mystics against a struggling but scrappy Charlotte squad that was playing for the first time without all-star point guard Dawn Staley, who was traded to Houston on Monday. After building a 33-23 halftime lead, the Mystics were outscored, outrebounded and generally outhustled for most of the second half, then were forced to hold on through a tense final sequence.

With 14 seconds remaining, center Chasity Melvin made one of two free throws to give Washington a 64-60 lead. Charlotte's Jia Perkins answered by curling off a screen and making a three-pointer. After rookie point guard Temeka Johnson made a free throw with 4.4 seconds remaining, a desperation heave by Charlotte's Kelly Mazzante glanced off the backboard as the buzzer sounded before a crowd of 7,655.

"I feel we came out too relaxed in the second half and we let them back in," said Melvin, who led the Mystics with 17 points and seven rebounds. "Any WNBA team can come back if you let them back in on your home court. Everybody out there is a professional and they believe they can win."

On a night when Beard, Washington's leading scorer, hit just 1 of 13 shots, and another starter, Charlotte Smith-Tayor, managed one field goal attempt, the Mystics were able to come up with just enough to offset a terrific performance by Charlotte center Tangela Smith, who scored a game-high 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting.

Smith scored 19 points in the second half and seemed to make a big shot each time it appeared that Washington was ready to pull away.

The win gave the Mystics a 4-0 sweep of the season series against Charlotte, which dropped to a league-worst 3-21. Charlotte hasn't won since July 7 and hasn't won on the road all season. Washington improved to 13-12 and kept itself in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Mystics entered the night in fourth place, one game ahead of Detroit but ended the night in third after New York's loss. Washington will host second-place Indiana on Sunday and first-place Connecticut next Thursday before embarking on a crucial road trip with games at Connecticut, New York, Indiana and Detroit.

"We have to win our games at home with five of those last seven games on the road," Mystics Coach Richie Adubato said. "We have to beat Indiana and Connecticut in these next two games."

Mystics Notes: Mystics co-owner Sheila Johnson sang the national anthem before the game. Johnson, who bought a stake in the franchise May 25, is 3-0 against former husband Bob Johnson, who owns the Sting and the NBA's Bobcats. . . .

The game tipped off at 8 p.m. because it was originally scheduled to air on ESPN2. Charlotte's poor record led the network to air the Detroit-Houston game instead. . . .

New Wizards guard Antonio Daniels attended the game.

* SUN 72, LIBERTY 65: Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 19 points and seven rebounds, and Katie Douglas added 18 points to lead Connecticut (19-6) to the road victory.

* MONARCHS 67, SILVER STARS 57: Yolanda Griffith had 21 points and 14 rebounds, and visiting Sacramento notched its fifth straight victory. The Monarchs (18-7) lead the Western Conference and are one game behind Connecticut for the WNBA's top record.

* COMETS 62, SHOCK 61: Sheryl Swoopes hit a 12-foot jumper with 23 seconds to play to give Houston the victory at home. Swoopes finished with 17 points.

Mystics guard Alana Beard chases down a loose ball at MCI Center. Beard scored four points on 1-for-13 shooting.