- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

There will be no Eastern Conference championship this season for the Washington Mystics. A playoff spot will have to suffice.
From June 28 to Aug. 2, the Mystics dominated the WNBA's Eastern Conference. Then came an unconscionable seven-game slide and last night came the New York Liberty.
In a winner-take-all showdown on Fun Street, the Liberty claimed the Eastern Conference's top seed behind the hot shooting of backup guard Becky Hammon.
Hammon came off the Liberty's bench and lit up the Mystics by matching her career high of 22 points as the Liberty defeated the Mystics 74-66 before 18,234 last night at MCI Center.
With this loss and two road games remaining, the Mystics (16-14) are in a dogfight with the Charlotte Sting (16-14) and Indiana Fever (14-16 ) for second place and the home-court advantage that goes with it in the first round of the playoffs. The Mystics close out the season Tuesday in Charlotte, and that game may decide home-court advantage.
"It's kind of depressing, but we've got to keep pressing on and keep pushing," said Mystics star forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who scored a game-high 23 points. "We control our own destiny and we put ourselves in this position."
One night after getting embarrassed at home by the Mystics, New York (18-12) stormed back into the nation's capital with a vengeance. There was a lot at stake for the playoff-bound Mystics: A win in their final home game would have tied them with the Liberty for first place in the east, and given them the tie-breaker against New York.
While the Mystics are understandably pleased to have clinched a playoff spot just the second one in franchise history one of their goals before the season was to win the Eastern Conference.
Hammon, who came into the game averaging 7.6 points per game, made five of six 3-pointers. Thursday night in the Mystics' 65-54 win in Madison Square Garden, New York's shooters Hammon, guard Vickie Johnson, point guard Teresa Weatherspoon and small forward Crystal Robinson combined to make 10 of 34 shots for 26 points. Last night, the Liberty foursome went 17-for-36 for 62 points.
"Shooting is like that, it's all percentages," Hammon said. "You might miss your first two or three and you hit your next five, but you can't quit shooting the ball. My teammates have a ton of confidence even if we do miss two or three, we're still coming back to you."
The Liberty executed much better in their half-court sets last night. Their post players set high screens and stayed with their picks instead of flashing a screen and rolling to the basket like they did Thursday night.
"What was impressive with New York is they continued doing what was working," said Mystics rookie Stacey Dales-Schuman. "They ran the same play over and over and over. We really should have triggered into that and stopped it. They did a great job screening us and as a result got open shots."
Last night, Dales-Schuman broke out of her slump, as her first-half output nearly equaled that of her last five games. Dales-Schuman scored 11 first-half points, making four of five shots after scoring 15 over her previous five games. She finished with 16 points on five of seven shooting, a positive sign for the Mystics heading into the playoffs.
Holdsclaw led the Mystics with her 13th double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Holdsclaw and Dales-Schuman were the only double-figure scorers for the Mystics. Hammon and veteran Sue Wicks came off New York's bench to outscore the Mystics bench 30-16.
Note During a halftime ceremony, the Mystics hoisted another attendance banner, the fourth time in five seasons the Mystics have raised a flag honoring their fans. Coming into last night's game, the team's announced average per game this season was 16,067. And to honor the occasion, Mystics' fans sang the national anthem accompanied by organ music.


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