- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. The Washington Mystics wanted to stay in Charlotte. Instead, they have to go home for a while.

The Mystics closed the regular season at Charlotte Coliseum last night with a 67-57 loss to the Charlotte Sting, who they will face in the WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals later this week.

Charlotte clinched second place in the conference with the victory, claiming homecourt advantage for the series with Washington. Had the Mystics won, they would have finished second and opened the playoffs here before heading to the District.

In the WNBA's mixed-up homecourt setup, Washington (17-15) plays host to Game 1 at 8 p.m. on Thursday in the best-of-3 series. Game 2 is noon Saturday in Charlotte, and Game 3, if necessary, would be 7 p.m. on Monday in Charlotte.

It's the highest Charlotte has finished in its six-year history, and it marks the first time the Sting have earned homecourt advantage for a playoff series.

"Our approach was to not only get home advantage but to set a tone here," coach Anne Donovan said.

The Sting did it with shining defense against Chamique Holdsclaw and Stacey Dales-Schuman, Washington's leading scorers who average 30 points combined but were limited to 12 last night. Holdsclaw, the WNBA's leading scorer, had eight points on 4-for-14 shooting.

"I missed some chippys, and our flow just wasn't there offensively," Holdsclaw said. "We have to push the ball up the court a little better. They did a good job on me, but I think I can correct some things and come out ready for the next game."

Charlotte's Allison Feaster scored 20 points, including four 3-pointers, and Tammy Sutton-Brown scored 17.

Outside of those two, the Sting didn't shoot well (35 percent) but hit 19 of 20 from the free throw line, forced 15 turnovers and held a 30-27 rebounding advantage.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence," Sutton-Brown said. "We struggled through the midseason, but now is a great time to peak. We can use this momentum going into the playoffs."

The Sting finished the regular season with four straight wins. Washington lost two of three against Charlotte, winning the only game at MCI Center.

Vicky Bullett led Washington with 11 points, and Annie Burgess and Helen Luz added 10 each.

Charlotte led by double digits most of the second half until Washington closed within 60-53 on Luz's 12-foot jumper with six minutes left. The Sting held Washington scoreless the next three minutes and bumped the lead to 63-53 on Sutton-Brown's three-point play with 3:12 left.

The teams combined for 18 turnovers, and neither shot better than 39 percent in a sloppy first half. Charlotte took command with a 13-0 run that included two 3-pointers by Feaster and another by Stinson.

Washington went more than six minutes without a field goal and committed six turnovers.

Charlotte is in the playoffs for the fifth time in its six years, while Washington will make its second appearance.

"They put a lot of energy into their defense," Mystics coach Marianne Stanley said. "We didn't play near to where we're capable, and we were still in it until they blew it open late."

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