- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2011

Coach Trudi Lacey has emphasized defense as the starting point for the Mystics’ success.

But after Washington’s 84-77 loss to Chicago on Saturday, its focus has become even more specific: defense for all four quarters, not just pieces of it. The Mystics trailed by 18 at halftime, digging themselves an early hole they were unable to escape.

A main contributor to Washington’s defense is the team’s newest player, Kerri Gardin, who was added to the roster after injuries to Alana Beard and Ta’Shia Phillips. She said the Mystics prepared differently for their matchup against the Connecticut Sun on Thursday, focusing on being aggressive early on.

“We need to come out aggressive in the first five minutes,” Gardin said before the game. “That’s really important, and we really worked on that the days we had in practice, just to be mentally prepared to just come out and start better.”

Nicky Anosike echoed Gardin’s words.

“[The coaches are] focusing now, even in practice, on being ready from the first second,” she said. “We have a habit of trying to warm up the first half and starting to play in the second half. We’re going to start in practice with being ready the first minute, the first second of practice and then hopefully that will transfer over to being ready for the beginning of the game.”

Gardin was not on the roster when Washington lost its season opener to Connecticut on June 4. In her Mystics debut, she collected six steals and five rebounds in a 98-90 overtime road win over the Atlanta Dream.

“I think [Kerri] is doing pretty well,” Anosike said. “It’s hard when you just kind of get thrown into a situation. She came straight to Atlanta, didn’t know the plays, didn’t really know any of the defensive schemes. But I feel like she did a great job, and with the past few days at practice I feel like she’s really working hard.

“Everyone’s really trying to help her get adjusted, and I think we’ll see a lot more from her.”

Gardin said that by her third game as a Mystic, she had established a role for herself on the team, which she described as “just having a defensive presence, being aggressive on the defensive end and rebounding.”

The Mystics had a number of adjustments to make after their last meeting with Connecticut.

“We have to play better defense, more specifically transition defense and better post defense,” Anosike said.

Washington faced a daunting task in defending Connecticut’s post players. Forward Asjha Jones and center Tina Charles dominated the Mystics in the first meeting, shooting a combined 14-for-23 en route to 32 points and 13 rebounds. But Gardin’s presence gave the Mystics a weapon they did not have in their season opener.

“They probably have the best one-two punch in the league in [Jones] and [Charles],” Gardin said. “I think our post players are right up there. They’re going to have their hands full, but if they come out there and be aggressive they’ll be all right.”