- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

After returning from an 0-3 road trip, the Washington Mystics received some good news Tuesday.

Starting point guard Nikki Blue, who was expected to be out four weeks with a sprained ankle, participated in a full practice and is likely to play against the Sacramento Monarchs on Wednesday, according to coach Tree Rollins.

Blue, who sprained her right ankle May 25 in a win over Houston, credits her quick recovery to the extra time she spent with team trainer Navin Hettiarachchi.

The guard stayed off the ankle and iced it several times a day. Her ankle looked good Monday, and she was cleared to play this week.

After watching Washington’s road woes from home, Blue is anxious to return.

“Now that I’m back, I’ll be able to contribute something, and hopefully we’ll get on a roll,” said Blue, who is averaging 0.7 points and a team-leading 3.7 assists in three games. “I just want to be that extra component that we need to win.”

Blue’s return should help Washington’s offensive efficiency. She has more experience in Rollins’ system than the team’s other point guards.

The Mystics will keep only two point guards on the active roster. Rollins said the staff will decide after Wednesday’s shootaround between Amber Jacobs, who has three starts in Blue’s stead, and Crystal Smith, who joined the Mystics for last week’s road trip.

In each of its road losses, Washington (2-6) was doomed by one bad quarter. To reverse their losing streak, the Mystics will have to be more consistent.

“Our team is playing very hard,” Rollins said. “We’ve been in games, but we have those lulls where we have too many turnovers at one time or we miss too many free throws at one time.”

Washington’s struggles during those stretches are exacerbated because the team slumps collectively, having what Rollins calls a “devastating” effect on the Mystics’ chances.

On June 3 at Phoenix, the Mystics were blitzed 28-16 in the first quarter and never held a lead.

Friday at San Antonio, Washington trailed 47-46 entering the fourth quarter but was outscored 16-6 en route to a 63-52 loss.

Sunday at Connecticut, the Mystics watched a three-point halftime deficit grow to 20 after being outscored 29-12 in the third quarter.

“Sometimes we play really hard but not really smart,” forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin said. “That’s something that we are going to have to put together. If you do that, you’re more than likely going to put yourself in a position to win at the end of the games. We don’t want to be so far behind that you can’t even think about winning, and that’s where we’ve been.”

In an attempt to turn the season around, Rollins has turned to a psychological strategy that worked last season during the Mystics’ playoff push that fell short on the last day of the season.

He is encouraging them to simplify the game, to break it down quarter by quarter. He wants the Mystics to play with the mentality of winning each quarter, instead of focusing on the game as a whole.

The players, too, are searching for a remedy for their inconsistencies.

“In those quarters where we do have those lapses, we have to find something that stabilizes us,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “We have to find something that will work for us consistently to get through those moments where our normal stuff doesn’t work. The coaching staff can only tell us so much before we as players have to do it ourselves.”

Said guard-forward Monique Currie: “It’s very important for us to get a win [Wednesday]. We’re not panicking yet, but this season is a short season, and we can’t really afford to have losses that you should win. I think if we can get a win at home with our fans behind us, that’ll get us going.”

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