- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

MYSTICS 76, MIRACLE 64

The Eastern Conference jinx is over for the Washington Mystics, thanks to a timely second-half run and a Rocky-type performance by center Vicky Bullett.

Bullett was half-blinded after getting poked in the right eye by Orlando Miracle forward Brooke Wyckoff on a drive midway through the second half yesterday at MCI Center. The Mystics captain, though, stayed in the game to tie her career high with 24 points, pull down nine rebounds and lead Washington to a 76-64 victory their first against an Eastern Conference opponent in seven tries this season.

"I couldn't see the whole second half," Bullett said.

Despite having to ice her swollen eyelid every time she went to the bench, Bullett scored eight points after the injury and had a steal to close the game.

"They say sometimes when you're sick and you're kind of limited, that's the best time because you're focused," said Washington forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who had 15 points and seven rebounds. "Even with one eye, she was probably really focused with that one eye, and [Bullett's shots] were going down."

Mystics guard Nikki McCray set season highs with 18 points and five steals, and Washington guard Audrey Sauret set the team's season high with eight assists. Five Miracle players scored in double-figures, with guard Shannon Johnson and forward Nykesha Sales both finishing with 14 points.

The win was the Mystics' second in a row after an eight-game losing streak. Washington (4-9) is tied with Orlando (4-9) for sixth place in the East.

At halftime, though, it didn't look like Washington would be doing much celebrating.

Even though the Mystics shot an encouraging 48.4 percent (15-for-31) from the field, they trailed 39-31 at intermission, looking confused and ragged through much of the first half.

"Our season was on the brink at halftime," Mystics coach Tom Maher said.

Washington allowed Johnson almost single-handedly to give her team an 8-0 lead to open the game. She made back-to-back 3-pointers, then added an assist after stripping Washington guard Helen Luz on a fullcourt press and finding Miracle guard Elaine Powell waiting underneath.

It was one of the Mystics' nine turnovers of the half.

"At the five-minute mark they were [on pace for] 100 points and we were looking at getting like 25 [turnovers]," Maher said. "Our first five minutes were very poor."

But for the second time this season and the first since the beginning of the skid Washington was able to use a come-from-behind run to make up for its poor start.

The spree was sparked by none other than Bullett, who knocked in three straight shots in less than 1:30 to start the second half for a suddenly sharp and spirited Mystics squad.

By the 12:00 mark, Washington was in possession of a 54-45 lead after a 23-4 run that featured not only the high-speed offense Maher prefers but also a disciplined defense that forced six Orlando turnovers.

"We've stood around all year," Bullett said. "This is the first day we didn't stand around."

Neither did Orlando, though. After trailing by as many as 12 points, the Miracle battled back to within 61-58 with a little more than three minutes remaining.

But Sales who had been 3-for-3 from the free throw line at that point missed a technical and two free throws that could have tied it with 3:20 left.

Bullett clinched the win with a 3-pointer that put Washington up 68-60 with 2:06 remaining. The Miracle were forced to foul for the rest of the game.

"Those free throws did not lose that ballgame," Orlando coach Carolyn Peck said. "The ball game was lost in the first few minutes of the [second half]."

The loss was Orlando's third in a row and prompted Peck to meet with her team for almost an hour and a half before opening the postgame locker room to the media.

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