- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001


Where's Merlin when you need him?

The curse plaguing the Washington Mystics reared its head again yesterday as Washington dropped an emotional 57-55 game to the Cleveland Rockers at MCI Center, extending the Mystics' winless streak to four games and bringing their record against Eastern Conference opponents to 0-5.

And what an evil spell it is. The Mystics (2-5) played their best basketball of the season but couldn't rebound from a 15-0 second-half run by the Rockers (6-3) despite three chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute.

"We were dog-doo the last two games," said Mystics coach Tom Maher, whose team was pounded by the New York Liberty 86-63 on Saturday. "Today we played it a game. Unfortunately, we played it to be competitive; we didn't play it to win."

The killer instinct definitely was lacking from the Mystics in the closing seconds. That and a clear head.

After Mystics forward Chamique Holdsclaw ended the Cleveland run with five straight points, bringing Washington within 57-54 with 1:03 left, Washington guard Nikki McCray regained possession with a steal from Rockers forward Rushia Brown.

But Holdsclaw, who led all scorers with 22 points, missed a 3-pointer with two Cleveland defenders in her face that could have tied it. McCray followed by throwing up a brick from behind the arc with eight seconds left after Mystics center Vicky Bullett managed to tip the loose ball out to Washington guard Annie Burgess.

McCray was fouled after the shot by Rockers forward Mery Andrade with five seconds left, and after making the first free throw missed the second shot intentionally. The ball, though, bounced around the rim and the backboard before falling away, giving Brown time to gain position for the rebound.

"We knew they were going to try to miss the second one, and it was really on me and [Brown] to get the rebound," said Rockers center Chasity Melvin, who had a career-high 12 rebounds. "I thought it was going to come off a little harder."

Cleveland called a timeout with 4.5 seconds left, but that only gave the Mystics another chance to conjure up a win.

Rockers point guard Helen Darling's inbound pass at midcourt hit off Cleveland guard Merlakia Jones' foot and rolled out at the sideline, giving possession back to the Mystics with three seconds left.

With no timeouts and trailing by two, the Mystics frantically tried setting up for a last-second shot off the inbounds play. But confusion reigned as Maher substituted Holdsclaw for McCray while simultaneously directing his other players.

Before she knew it, Holdsclaw the Mystics' main offensive threat was throwing in the ball instead of setting herself up to receive the pass.

"I wasn't supposed to take the ball out of bounds," Holdsclaw said. "I was supposed to actually be on the opposite side. I was supposed to flash to the basket. We just didn't run it right; everybody didn't know their placement."

What resulted was what Maher called "Plan B." Burgess wound up with the ball at the top of the key, took a dribble to split two defenders and tossed up a running two-handed push shot that didn't even reach the net from eight feet.

"We got a shot inside the paint past the defense what [kind of] shot do you want?" a frustrated Maher asked. "It was an airball. Jeez, you can't tip airballs in, you know? That was a good enough shot to make."

Note Mystics guard Audrey Sauret was on the bench in street clothes for yesterday's game. Sauret arrived in Washington on Saturday after leading her French team to the league championship Wednesday. The 5-foot-10 guard is expected to push McCray for a starting position. The Mystics will have to make a roster move to activate Sauret.

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