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Beard puts Mystics on point in victory

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2008

The Washington Mystics left Verizon Center yesterday with mixed emotions.

Yes, they won their home opener 69-66 over the Houston Comets.

But they also lost their starting point guard to an ankle injury. Nikki Blue fell hard late in the third quarter and limped off the court. She did not return, and the extent of her injury was unclear immediately following the game.

With Blue out, Alana Beard is Washington's best ball handler. She played half of her minutes at the point yesterday, and it seemed to be a smooth transition. However, Beard is best deployed in coach Tree Rollins' offense as a scorer (she finished with a team-high 16 yesterday). The point guard is primarily a distributor in the system, and after the game Rollins said he would start working on plays to get Beard shots from the point guard position.

Despite the injury, there was a sense of relief in Washington's locker room. The Mystics (1-2) have been eager to get their first win of the season so they could expel the thoughts of a repeat of last year's dismal 0-8 start.

Trailing 65-64 with less than a minute to play, Coco Miller was trapped by two Houston defenders and lost the ball. But she redeemed herself seconds later, grabbing a loose ball off an errant Houston pass and converting a layup, giving the Mystics the lead.

"It was great team defense. [The ball] was loose, we were scrambling for it and once I got my hands on it I grabbed it and laid it in," Miller said of the play.

At first, it looked as if the Mystics wouldn't shake off their early season problem of starting slow. They scored just 10 first-quarter points, and it took 4:07 before Beard made the team's first field goal.

But in the second quarter, Rollins mixed up his lineup and got major contributions from his bench. First-round pick Crystal Langhorne made her first three shots, and sharpshooter Laurie Koehn hit two 3-pointers to jump-start the previously dormant Washington offense. Koehn's hot shooting was especially important because it forced the Comets out of a zone defense that was stymieing the Mystics.

"When I get open shots, it's because of how [my teammates] set me up, the kind if picks they set, how they penetrate and find me," said Koehn, who finished with 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting from behind the arc. "It's my job. I gotta knock those down, and it's a situation where I would feel horrible if I didn't."

The Mystics extended their three-point halftime lead to seven midway through the third quarter. But then they went cold from the floor, allowing the Comets to get back into the game. Houston shot just 38.5 percent but grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, creating several second-chance scoring opportunities. The Comets led for most of the fourth quarter until Miller's steal and layup.

"[Miller] makes things happen," Rollins said. "She makes big shots for us. She plays good defense; she chases down balls and makes things happen. She's energy."