- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2001

MYSTICS 55, STING 42

The Washington Mystics may be on life support in the Eastern Conference standings, but they're not letting anyone pull the plug on their season just yet.

Exacting revenge for a two-point loss Thursday at the Charlotte Sting, the Mystics downed the Sting 55-42 yesterday before 14,914 at MCI Center.

"We're not slashing our wrists," said Washington coach Tom Maher, whose team returned from a three-game road swing to win its second straight.

Mystics guard Nikki McCray one of only two players to score in double digits led all scorers with 23 points. Guard Andrea Stinson led Charlotte with 10 points.

It was another solid performance by McCray, who had suffered through a major scoring slump well into midseason. Since starting in the All-Star Game, however, the veteran has scored in double digits in five of the last six games including 14 points Thursday when the Sting closed the game on a 14-0 run to beat Washington 62-60.

"I think in the past, there's been a question about what it is Nikki's role is," McCray said. "The other day in practice, [Maher] just came to me and just said, 'Nikki, you need to be out on the floor and you need to score for us,' and I think that's been a big difference."

While the Mystics (8-16) have won only six of their last 21 games, they still are in the race for the East's fourth and final playoff spot.

Washington's target is Charlotte (11-14), which continues to hold fourth place in the East despite the loss and is 2* games ahead of the Mystics with eight to go.

The third and final matchup between the two teams takes place next Monday at MCI Center.

"We've got to beat Charlotte to [win the season series], and we've got to win two more games down the last eight games to draw level, and then we'll get in," Maher said.

McCray said that the team's veterans are ready to shoulder the load down the stretch, and that the Mystics can no longer be a team full of passive players.

"I don't think we can come from behind from [depending on losses by] other teams," McCray said. "I think we have to be the aggressor from here on out."

The Mystics also need to continue controlling the ball like they did yesterday to have any hope at competing for that last playoff berth.

A notoriously high-turnover team with an average of 16.1 a game coming in, Washington limited its turnovers to 14 yesterday to match Charlotte's count.

"We're a team that can throw the ball away just ridiculously," Maher said. "Fourteen [turnovers] is more than acceptable for us."

Of the Stings' 14 turnovers, 11 were forced by the Mystics' defense. Charlotte's biggest pest was Washington guard Helen Luz, who had five steals plus had a hand in at least two other Sting turnovers. Luz also contributed six points and three assists.

"Her defense has been phenomenal," McCray said.

Praise also was meted out to Mystics center Vicky Bullett, whose modest scoring line five points, seven rebounds and one assist was accompanied by an impressive defensive performance in the paint that featured four blocked shots.

"It sounds like a miserable performance," Maher said, "but [Charlotte] got only 42 points."

Notes Charlotte point guard Dawn Staley, a former University of Virginia player, went down with a knee injury after colliding with Washington point guard Annie Burgess with 2:29 left and did not return. Sting coach Anne Donovan said Staley was "doing OK" after the game.

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