- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Washington Mystics might not have beaten the New York Liberty on Wednesday, but they didn’t get blown out by their Eastern Conference rivals. And that in itself provided encouragement that the inconsistent play that plagued the Mystics earlier this season might be a thing of the past.

In an 80-73 loss in a matinee at Verizon Center, the Mystics had more rebounds and shot a higher percentage. They even had a chance to win in the final minute. All in all, it was a different scene than last week’s 21-point rout at Madison Square Garden.

“I thought our performance overall was a lot better than what we showed when we played them up there,” said Jessie Kenlaw, who fell to 1-1 since becoming the interim coach Saturday. “But it was the little things down the stretch that I think got us in trouble today.”

Washington’s biggest culprit was defending the perimeter. The Mystics held the Liberty to 44.4 percent shooting from the field but allowed New York to hit 10 of 23 3-pointers, including several critical ones late in the game.

After the Mystics used a 15-1 run to take a 49-44 lead with 2:24 remaining in the third quarter, consecutive 3s by Leilani Mitchell and Erin Thorn put the Liberty back on top.

And twice in the fourth quarter after closing within one possession, Washington allowed Mitchell to extend the Liberty’s lead with a long-range shot.

“Our first key was to guard the 3-point line,” forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin said. “We just gotta be focused and disciplined like [Kenlaw] always tells us. You have to be disciplined to do it. You don’t give them the opportunity to get them off. You make them put the ball on the floor.”

Four Mystics starters scored in double figures - McWilliams-Franklin (19), guard Alana Beard (16), forward Monique Currie (14) and center Nakia Sanford (14).

The Mystics seem to be a changed team under Kenlaw, who replaced Tree Rollins. They rolled to a 32-point win over the Seattle Storm on Sunday, but on Wednesday the Mystics got off to a shaky start, trailing by double digits before the end of the first quarter. They were the aggressors during some stretches but played into a lull during others. Unlike in past games, however, that inconsistency seemed to fade as the game went on, and the Mystics managed to get back into it.

“The Mystics played a lot harder this game [than last],” Liberty coach Pat Coyle said. “I think they have a lot of talent. Beard, Currie, Taj and Sanford played extremely hard. With their energy, you can’t let up.”

The Liberty (13-10) outplayed the Mystics (9-15) down the stretch, which came as no surprise. New York has remained one of the East’s best teams all season, but Washington has had little experience with close contests.

“That’s a thing we have to get better at - our timely scoring in late-game situations,” Kenlaw said. “That’s something I haven’t worked on yet with them like I need to, so that’s gonna be one of our focuses going forward. Believe me, we’re gonna get better, and we will be a lot more productive down the stretch.”