Sun 80, Mystics 65
Throughout the season, the Washington Mystics have shown themselves to be a solid team. That designation might be good enough to grab one of four spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but if last night's 80-65 loss to the conference-leading Connecticut Sun is any indication, it's not nearly enough to compete for a WNBA championship.
After a crisply played and highly competitive first half, Connecticut (22-6) pulled away and went on to an easy victory in front of 6,664 at MCI Center. Guard Nykesha Sales scored a game-high 20 points and power forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Sun, which is cruising toward posting the best record in the East for the second straight season.
Alana Beard led the Mystics (14-13) with 18 points to go with five rebounds and three steals and DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 15 points, but Washington shot 43.3 percent as a team, was outrebounded 35-26 and put Connecticut on the free throw line 26 times. The Mystics didn't help themselves by missing 10 of 11 three-point attempts.
"I thought we were more aggressive," Connecticut Coach Mike Thibault said. "I kept subbing to keep everyone fresh. We got our legs back. We played with a little more bounce."
The Mystics are tied for third place with New York with seven games remaining and will get another crack at the Sun on Sunday in Connecticut. The teams will also meet Aug. 26 in Connecticut.
"The better team won tonight," Mystics Coach Richie Adubato said. "We chose the wrong night to not play at our best."
The Mystics, coming off close home victories over Charlotte and Indiana, appeared on their way toward another tight finish when they stayed with the Sun during the first half. The lead changed hands 10 times before Connecticut forward Asjha Jones capped the first half with a layup off a beautiful pass from backup point guard Jennifer Derevjanik.
For the Mystics and their fans, frustration began to set in midway through the second half. After Brooke Wyckoff went over Beard's back while attempting to pull down an offensive rebound and no call was made, Beard reacted by yelling at referee Tina Napier. Napier slapped Beard with a technical foul and Sales made the free throw, giving Connecticut its largest lead at 61-48.
From that point, the Sun maintained control of the game's tempo and momentum. Washington's efforts at a comeback were hampered when rookie point guard Temeka Johnson went to the locker room with leg cramps with 11 minutes 50 seconds remaining. Without Johnson, who finished with nine points and five assists in 25 minutes, the Mystics had little chance of turning the game around with pressure and by pushing the ball in transition.
Then again, it might not have mattered. Connecticut's execution on both ends has been excellent all season. According to Adubato, the Sun is a team that plays with an "air about them." That's coach-speak for describing a team that seemingly knows how to always make the extra pass, hit the open shot or come up with the big defensive stop when needed.
"They're a veteran team," Beard said. "They've been together for a couple of years and they came close to winning it all last year, so they play with a lot of confidence. They know what it takes to get to that level."