- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2009

If there were any indication during the WNBA’s opening weekend that the Washington Mystics have moved past last season’s woes, Sunday’s second quarter was it.

After failing to make a field goal in the first five minutes en route to an eight-point first quarter, the Mystics erupted for a 30-point second to take control of their home opener and fend off the Atlanta Dream 77-71. The Mystics are 2-0 for the first time in franchise history.

“Anytime you win, considering our situations in the past, it’s an amazing feeling,” guard Alana Beard said. “Hopefully it can be a snowball effect and we can keep it going.”

It appears the Mystics’ biggest strength this season is their depth. In Saturday’s win against Connecticut, rookie Marissa Coleman led the team with 16 points. On Sunday, two more reserves - Matee Ajavon and Tasha Humphrey - led them out of an early 14-point hole.

Ajavon and Humphrey each hit a pair of 3-pointers to ignite the Mystics’ second-quarter surge, in which they had runs of 8-0 and 16-0. By the time the flurry was over, Washington turned a 22-8 first-quarter deficit into a 38-30 lead.

“That’s part of us being the 25-and-under group,” Humphrey said. “We started the game off sloppy for whatever reason, and once we calmed down, Matee and I came in and sparked the great crowd and the great energy.”

Washington’s newfound depth has eased the burden on Beard. She finished with a game-high 27 points but was on the bench with four points when Washington made its comeback with a lineup of Lindsey Harding, Ajavon, Coleman, Humphrey and Nakia Sanford.

“Anybody can score on any given night, and that’s the beauty of this team,” Beard said. “I don’t have to put a lot of pressure on myself to come in and be ready and feel like I have to carry the load every single night.”

Crystal Langhorne (10 points) was the only other Mystics player in double figures. Still, eight of the nine who played wound up scoring; the only one held scoreless was Harding, who dished out seven assists.

Coach Julie Plank appeared to make all the right moves during Washington’s perfect weekend. She is still tinkering with lineup combinations, substituting frequently and sticking with whatever combination is working for the time being.

“I look at our players, and we’re bringing people off the bench that can be starters,” Plank said. “We will count on our depth a lot. We want to play fast and get people in the game and keep that pace.”

Plank talked during training camp about molding Washington into a strong defensive, up-tempo team, and those points of emphasis have stuck with the Mystics. They grabbed 17 steals and, running at every opportunity, poured in 17 fast-break points.

“Playing like that gets you energized, and it gets the crowd energized,” Humphrey said. “Anytime you can do that, anytime a coach comes in and instills a system and everybody embraces it, it gets you excited because everybody’s on the same page.”

There was mixed reaction from the 11,759 at Verizon Center to the Dream’s three ex-Mystics players. Chamique Holdsclaw, whom Washington drafted first overall in 1999, heard scattered boos from the crowd whenever she touched the ball. Coco Miller, who had a team-high 17 for Atlanta, and Nikki Teasley received warm ovations.

But the biggest applause was reserved for the Mystics, who are off to a franchise-best start.

“I think this team has great, great potential, and we’re not satisfied,” Plank said. “I’m very proud of our players. I think they’re competitive, they’re winners and they have very high expectations for one another. They’ve made my job a lot easier.”

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