- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

LIBERTY 81, MYSTICS 80

Poor free throw shooting prevented the Washington Mystics from staking a claim as one of the Eastern Conference's power brokers.

Usually teams that shoot 48.3 percent from the foul line don't stand much of a chance against one of the WNBA's better teams. And for much of yesterday's game against the New York Liberty that was the case.

The Mystics rallied from a huge second-half deficit only to see Helen Luz's potential game-tying 3-pointer miss the mark. A meaningless putback by the Mystics' Annie Burgess at the buzzer left the final score 81-80, allowing the Liberty to escape MCI Center with a win.

The Mystics made just 14 of 29 free throws, part of the reason they trailed the Liberty (2-3) 79-60 with 3:57 left in the game.

Chamique Holdsclaw made just six of her 14 free throws, but she probably can be forgiven for her performance from the foul line. The team's star forward scored 11 of her career-high 31 points in the game's final 3:02 as the Mystics closed the game with a 20-2 run that delighted the crowd of 17,715.

Layups, putbacks, fadeaway jumpers with defenders in her face, you name it, Holdsclaw scored at will. In the end the game clock was the only thing able to stop Holdsclaw from completing a miraculous comeback.

"I'm telling ya, the girl turned it on," Liberty point guard Teresa Weatherspoon said of Holdsclaw. "We have never been hit like that, and hopefully it doesn't happen again."

Holdsclaw, who grew up in New York, always takes Liberty games personally. After the game, she said the Mystics have a way to go to match the Liberty's mental toughness.

"We want to get on their level," Holdsclaw said of the defending Eastern Conference champions. "Athletically, I will take my team over them, but it's just a mental focus, and that just comes from being veteran players."

Holdsclaw recorded her third straight and 18th career double-double. Holdsclaw, who finished with 13 rebounds, came into this game as the WNBA's second-leading rebounder with 10.7 a game. She also added five assists and three steals.

"To come back from 19, I give them a tremendous amount of credit," Liberty coach Richie Adubato said. "They kept coming. Holdsclaw made some unbelievable shots. She beat us in the Garden last year with another fadeaway with about two seconds to go. She's from New York, and I guess she wants to perform well against New York and she always does."

The Mystics (2-2), who lost at home for the first time this season, couldn't repeat their comeback from Tuesday, when they erased a 12-point second-half deficit and defeated the Sacramento Monarchs 75-72.

Two free throws by Liberty forward Vickie Johnson with 9.3 seconds remaining gave the Liberty an 81-78 lead, just enough to hold off the Mystics.

"You only have so many comebacks like that in your bag," Mystics first-year coach Tom Maher said.

The Mystics struggled defensively in the first half, allowing the Liberty to get to their spots and run their offense. Weatherspoon, not usually an offensive threat, scored a season-high 11 points in the first half, including a bomb from 26 feet at the halftime horn. Weatherspoon finished with 16 points.

Liberty forward Tari Phillips had 10 points and eight rebounds by intermission and finished with 15 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Liberty forward Crystal Robinson scored a season-high 14 points, including eight in the first half.

The Liberty shot 52.9 percent from the field in the first half, and the Mystics' 4-for-14 shooting from the line allowed New York to enjoy a 40-31 halftime lead.

"We've got to work on our mental skills so we can focus more consistently and not be distracted," Maher said. "Four-for-14? That is a joke."

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