- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2002

For a moment yesterday, the Washington Mystics seemed poised to offer a national television audience a glimpse of the resilient squad that has made it arguably the best story of the WNBA season's first half.
After a wretched first half left Washington 15 points behind the New York Liberty at halftime, Mystics guard Tonya Washington hit a 3-pointer to pull the hosts within eight points with almost 10 minutes to play. Mystics coach Marianne Stanley danced along the sideline, lifting her outstretched arms in an effort to rouse an MCI Center crowd already on its feet.
For the next five minutes, coach and crowd waited anxiously for the other shoe to drop and for the Mystics to surge ahead. But they never did.
An inspired second-half stretch could not save the Mystics from their awful start, and the Liberty (11-9) held on for a 67-53 victory. After getting bullied around in their own building at the start, the Mystics (14-6) managed an 11-2 run midway through the second half, punctuated by Washington's 3. But that spurt soon gave way to four turnovers in less than three minutes and the wearied Mystics suffered their first home loss of the season.
"I was disappointed we didn't play better on national TV," Stanley said. "You want to sell your product. You want to come out and win over your fans. We didn't play well today."
If seeing is believing, then the Eastern Conference-leading Mystics will have to wait until after the All-Star break to make converts out of the rest of the country. The Mystics will be rested by then, with Chamique Holdsclaw possibly returning from her left ankle sprain in time for Thursday's game against Detroit.
The Mystics missed her scoring touch yesterday. The Mystics shot just 9-for-32 in the first half, including 0-for-6 to start the game. A physical Liberty frontcourt banged, bumped and blocked the Mystics at every turn, rejecting five shots. What shots weren't blocked were frequently haphazard, off-balance offerings forced by New York's foreboding presence down low.
"The shots that disturb me are the ones where we were rushing. That doesn't qualify as a shot; that's a throw," Stanley said. "A lot of times it looked to me that we were avoiding contact. We needed to be more thoughtful, more powerful."
Powerful would be an appropriate word to describe New York center Tari Phillips. Led by her 4-for-7 first half, New York torched the Mystics with 57 percent shooting. Phillips also had more first-half rebounds (nine) than all four Washington forwards combined (eight).
Answering physical challenges has not been the Mystics' strong suit this season. It has posed problems in at least two of Washington's other losses.
"Charlotte played us strong the first time we played them, and L.A. played us strong," forward Murriel Page said. "And instead of matching them [physically], we just stick to the same thing, running our cuts and not really being aggressive.
"When teams come at us aggressively instead of just playing through, we need to fight back."
Said Coco Miller, who finished 11 points: "We need to have more good hard practices practices where people are becoming more physical with one another."
Stanley tried to combat New York's advantage down low yesterday by subbing in 6-foot-2, 198-pound forward Asjha Jones early in the game. But the rookie didn't provide much more than a body, shooting 2-for-10.
A different reserve, guard Helen Luz, was the only Mystic to enjoy any real success in the first half. Luz (11 points) did it by keeping her distance, nailing a pair of 3-pointers, including a 25-foot heave that cut New York's lead to 11.
That was as close as the Mystics came until the second half, when they made a surge behind the play of three reserves, including Luz and Washington, who had a season-high nine points.
"The momentum had shifted our way," Washington said, "but then it died down when we had some crucial turnovers and missed box-out assignments. That really cost us the game."
After the loss, the Mystics exited the floor to polite applause from the crowd of 17,841. It was an acknowledgment of a remarkable first half and a homestretch still filled with possibility.
"Today's game did not show what we can do," Jones said. "The fans are understanding of that and were with us. We did not do our best, but we're working on it."


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