- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The atmosphere was set. Verizon Center was packed to the rafters Wednesday morning with thousands of schoolkids who loudly cheered the Washington Mystics from the opening tip.

The team had just returned from a grueling West Coast road trip, during which it went 1-4 but closed out with stunning win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

But in the end, the Mystics lost to the Atlanta Dream 86-79 and dropped to 3-11.

“Tough loss for us. We played really hard,” Mystics coach Trudi Lacey said of the game in which neither team led by double digits. “We keep getting creative in how we’re losing these games, settling for jump shots when we need to stay in attack mode and get to the free throw line. We just have to continue to practice those situations and at the end of the game, and execute. We have evidence we can do that — we did it against L.A. That should give us some confidence going forward.”

Adding to that confidence is the improved play of Marissa Coleman, who scored a career-high 21 points; Crystal Langhorne, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds; and Nicky Anosike, who pulled down a season-high 14 rebounds.

“Marissa is playing better, Jasmine Thomas is coming along, Lang is starting to feel more like herself. Nicky is rebounding the ball well, so there’s a lot of positives,” Lacey said. “We will continue to be patient and teach them, but the mental mistakes just have to stop in order for us to win close games. I’ve said this from day one about this team; they have a huge heart, they play so hard. What I ask of them is to continue to learn and to grown and to play together.”

The Mystics have five days off until their next game Tuesday against the San Antonio Silver Stars - except for Langhorne, who will be representing the Mystics in her second consecutive All-Star appearance. The All-Star Game is Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in San Antonio.

Crystal has such a wonderful story, not just for basketball, but for everybody,” Lacey said. “She played at Maryland, had a great career, but in her rookie year, she hardly played at all. But she just continued to work and stay positive and persevere and overcame setbacks and challenges, which is a great example for our team.”

Langhorne was voted the WNBA’s most improved player last season.

“For us, it’s just a great example for everybody. It speaks to her character, and who she is as a person,” Lacey said.

Langhorne is averaging a career high 17.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

“I’m really excited about it. It’s a great honor to be chosen by the coaches,” she said. “I’m ready to go out there and play and represent the Mystics. I know the organization is going to want me to score, but to me, it’s going to be a fun time to go out and try to enjoy myself.”

As for Washington’s record, Langhorne believes the team is getting a chance to grow while going though growing pains.

“We’re continuing to learn,” Langhorne said. “Our rookies, we don’t consider them rookies anymore. They’ve played a lot. We’re just going to keep playing hard and try to get better.”