Mystics 76, Shock 67
The Mystics and Detroit Shock had just started to warm up prior to last night's season finale when a frustrated Mystics fan -- still hurting over Friday's blowout loss at Connecticut -- walked by the scorer's table and offered the strong opinion that seldom-used rookie guard Laurie Koehn should have played more this season.
A little more than two hours later, the same gentleman walked out of MCI Center with a smile nearly as wide as Koehn's home state of Kansas. Koehn, who went undrafted out of Kansas State last spring and averaged seven minutes per game prior to last night, made 5 of 7 three-point attempts and tied a season high with 15 points to lead the Mystics to a 76-67 victory over the playoff-bound Detroit Shock in front of a crowd of 9,011.
Koehn's shooting was the difference in an otherwise unremarkable final game for both teams. The Mystics (16-18) were eliminated from playoff contention Friday, when they suffered an 81-47 loss at Connecticut that clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference for Detroit.
With nothing to play for, Shock Coach Bill Laimbeer elected to go with his B team last night. Guard Katie Smith was the only regular in the starting lineup and played only seven minutes while all-stars Swin Cash, Cheryl Ford, Deanna Nolan and Ruth Riley didn't play at all. Still, Detroit (16-18) kept things close until the Mystics pulled away with a 15-0 second-half run that included two three-pointers by Koehn.
The Mystics will turn their attention to the offseason. The first priority will be figuring out the status of Coach Richie Adubato. Part-owner Sheila Johnson and General Manager Linda Hargrove have expressed a desire to bring back Adubato.
"We've had talks," Adubato said last night. "I know that I would like to come back, especially after how close we came to making the playoffs this season."
The next order of business will be finding a forward or center who can rebound, block shots and do the kind of dirty work that Ford does for the Shock. Entering last night's game, Chasity Melvin led the Mystics in rebounding with a 5.9 per game average, and the Mystics ranked 12th in rebounding as a team.
In a handful of close losses this season, including a pivotal 72-66 setback at New York on Aug. 16, a failure to box out and snag a key rebound hurt the Mystics. Help could come in April's WNBA draft. The Mystics are guaranteed to have a top-five pick and will have a chance to get into the top three via the lottery, which will take place in December.
The good news is that the Mystics have something to build on. Alana Beard and rookie Temeka Johnson showed signs of growing into one of the league's top back-court combinations. After missing the entire preseason and the first four games of the regular season because of hamstring and ankle injuries, Beard led the team in scoring and was voted to her first all-star team.
However, Beard struggled in the two biggest games of the season, shooting a combined 6 of 31 in Tuesday's victory over New York and Friday's loss to Connecticut. Beard's smooth left-handed stroke abandoned her too often this season, and following Friday's loss, she vowed to do something about it.
"I'm going to use this disappointment as motivation for getting better," Beard said. "It was a hard year, the whole year, I'm not going to lie. I don't feel that I have played like I'm capable of playing."
Beard is excited about again teaming up with Johnson, the sixth overall pick from LSU who is a strong candidate to win rookie of the year honors. Johnson started all 34 games and averaged 9.2 points and 5.2 assists while shooting 45.8 percent. She also had a franchise-record 177 assists.
"That's my running mate right there," Beard said. "Temeka had a great rookie year, and she's only going to get better. We're all going to get better. I love this organization, and I think we have a bright future."