- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Washington Mystics scored a season-high 80 points in a win over the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday. To beat the Los Angeles Sparks today, they will need a similar performance.

“This may be one of our better games to be able to get out and run,” coach Tree Rollins said. “They are a running team, but they will allow you to run also. Our transition defense has got to be on point.”

Their transition game will need to be at its best today at Verizon Center.

The Sparks average 83.7 points, while the Mystics average a league-worst 65.5 points.

After trudging through their first 3 1/2 games, Washington (2-2) put up a 49-point second half against the Dream. It began to look comfortable pushing the ball up after missed shots by Atlanta, using its speed and athleticism the way Rollins wants.

The Sparks (2-1) are one of the most talented teams in the league, with three players averaging double figures in scoring - rookie sensation Candace Parker (20.7), three-time league MVP Lisa Leslie (16.7) and former Mystics forward DeLisha Milton-Jones (12.0).

Besides practicing transition defense this week, the Mystics spent a great deal of time working on their offense, looking to build upon the second half against the Dream.

Rollins wants to use an efficient offense to compete with the Sparks and prevent them from running out on the break as much as possible.

“We have to make sure our attack is ready to go,” Rollins said. “We can’t afford to make mistakes and give them extra shots.”

Added center Nakia Sanford: “We’re focusing on getting our offense together, getting our timing together, getting our spacing together and keeping the ball in our hands, making sure we capitalize on all our possessions.”

To do that, Washington will need reliable play from its point guard spot.

With starter Nikki Blue out four weeks because of a sprained ankle, the position is still a work in progress. Amber Jacobs, the only active point guard on the roster, played 18 solid minutes Tuesday.

But Jacobs is in her first season with Washington, and Rollins said she still needs experience running the offense. That’s the primary reason Blue won the job out of training camp.

Alana Beard is the best ball-handler on the team otherwise, but Rollins wants to avoid using her at point guard as much as possible. She averages a team-high 20.3 points, and taking her out of her natural shooting guard position would be too costly to the offense.

Beard played point guard against the expansion Dream when Jacobs was out of the game and still managed a team-high 25 points. The Mystics used high pick-and-rolls to get her free.

Their rotation worked well Tuesday, and its effectiveness could be the determining factor in today’s game.

Despite the prospect of playing the star-studded Sparks on national television, the Mystics’ attention this week remained inward on what has worked for them during their two-game winning streak and how they can still improve.

“For us, it’s another game. It’s another day at work,” Sanford said. “We’re going to have to focus on our team. They have a really good team, and right now we’re still finding our balance. We’re going to have to continue with what we’ve done over the last two games and make sure we’re doing the things we need to do.”

Sun 89, Liberty 84

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Tamika Whitmore scored 18 points and led four Connecticut players in double figures as the Sun held off New York.

The Sun (4-1) led 82-70 with five minutes left before a New York rally pulled the Liberty to 88-84 in the final minute.

Connecticut made several defensive stops and Whitmore iced the game with a free throw with 2.5 seconds left.

Asjha Jones scored 16 points for Connecticut and Lindsay Whalen had 15 points and seven assists. Whalen made a 15-foot jumper with 1:26 left to give the Sun an 88-80 lead.

Essence Carson had 15 points off the bench to lead the Liberty (1-3). Shameka Christon and Cathrine Kraayeveld had 12 points apiece.

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