- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

It was a familiar sight and an all too familiar result: Forward Chamique Holdsclaw was on the bench in street clothes, and the Washington Mystics suffered another loss.

The Mystics became the first WNBA team to lose 20 games this season when Jocelyn Penn missed a layup with five seconds left in the second overtime period, allowing the Phoenix Mercury to escape MCI Center with a 70-69 double-overtime win yesterday before 11,052.

Holdsclaw, the WNBA’s leading rebounder (11.6 rebounds) and second-leading scorer (20.7 points), sat out her seventh game this season with a sore neck suffered Friday in Connecticut. Without their franchise player sidelined, the Mystics traded turnovers and missed layups with the league’s worst team before succumbing. The Mystics are 1-6 in games this season without Holdsclaw.

The Mystics (6-20) seemed to do everything right on the final clearout for Penn, isolating the athletic reserve forward on Phoenix guard Anna DeForge on the right side. One problem, though. Penn didn’t make the shot.

Penn laid the ball high and hard off the square on the backboard, and her shot bounced off the front of the rim.

“It was an iso for me. I was just trying to beat [DeForge] off the dribble. I felt like I got to the basket. I felt like I was wide open. I don’t know. It just didn’t go in,” said Penn, who scored a career-high 13 points and added a career-high nine rebounds.

On the Mystics’ previous possession with 39.7 seconds left, the Mystics isolated Penn on DeForge on the left side, and Penn blew by DeForge to tie the game at 69-69. After that worked, the Mystics decided to try it again.

“All they were doing the whole game, and it wasn’t just me, they were taking us from the high wing,” said DeForge, who scored a game-high 14 points. “That’s not disrespect. You’re going to your player who just made the last shot. Maybe they did iso me. I don’t care. My teammates had my back if I got beat. It was great defense. I didn’t need help. She didn’t beat me like she did the last time.”

Neither team seemed to want the victory. DeForge missed a leaning 20-footer at the end of regulation that would have won the game for the Mercury. Forward Stacey Dales-Schuman missed a 12-foot turnaround jumper from the right wing at the end of the first overtime that would have won the game for the Mystics. The Mercury just happened to be the last team standing.

This damaging loss puts a 10-win season in serious jeopardy for the Mystics. With eight games left, including five at home, the Mystics need to win five to avoid finishing with the second-worst record in franchise history. The 2001 Mystics went 10-22, and the 1998 team went 3-27, finishing with the worst winning percentage (.100) in the history of professional basketball.

This game, pitting the two last-place teams in the league, could have been called the Diana Taurasi sweepstakes. Connecticut’s do-everything guard likely will be the top pick in next year’s WNBA Draft.

“We wanted to win the game,” said Dales-Schuman, who scored 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting. “We are not concerned about Diana Taurasi right now. We are trying to win out. We are optimistic thinkers. It sounds crazy because we have lost, but we are optimistic, and we wanted to win this game.”

With the worst record in the league, the Mercury (5-19) still have the inside track to get a shot at Taurasi in the draft lottery. The Mercury came into this game as the WNBA’s poorest shooting team in every category — field goal percentage (.372), free throw percentage (68.1) and 3-point percentage (30.6) — adding up to the fewest points a game (60.7).

The Mystics, who are now 1-9 all time against Phoenix, had their share of problems yesterday. They committed a season-high 21 turnovers, shot 56.6 percent (10 of 18) from the free throw line and went 3-for-12 from behind the 3-point arc.

“If we could have had six or seven turnovers, it could be a different game,” Mystics coach Marianne Stanley said. “If we shoot even 65 or 70 percent [from the free throw line], it could be a different game. If we make two or three of those missed layups, it could be a different game.”

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