- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

It took a deep venture into no-woman's land by Washington Mystics center Vicky Bullett to complete a deliverance four years in the making.

With no choice but to shoot with just three ticks on the shot clock and Washington trailing the Detroit Shock by two points yesterday, Bullett lofted a 25-foot shot from well beyond the 3-point arc with 20.7 seconds left to play. She buried both the basket and the memory of a franchise that once nearly wandered past the point of no return.

Washington's ultimate 63-59 victory before 19,766 at MCI Center pushed its win total to 15, making this the best season (15-6) in team history and bringing the first-place Mystics full circle from their 3-27 inaugural season in 1998.

"We finally have the team that we always wanted," said forward Murriel Page, the only original Mystic still with the team. "Instead of people calling us the 'Mys-takes', they're actually giving us a chance. We're showing people that we're not a joke anymore."

Her game-winner wasn't the first time Bullett rescued Washington yesterday. In the first half, Detroit which showed more signs of life than any 3-17 team should raced to a 21-10 lead. But Bullett made the game's next two baskets and ignited a 12-2 run that brought the Mystics within one. All game long, in fact, her hot hand (10-for-11) compensated for her teammates' poor shooting (17-for-58).

But Bullett saved her heroics for the game's closing seconds. Near the end of a second half that saw seven ties, a layup by Detroit forward Swin Cash (16 points) broke a 57-57 tie with 48.6 seconds to play. Washington ran its halfcourt offense on its next possession but was unable to generate a good look until Bullett found her opening.

It just so happened it was a mile away from the basket. Bullett didn't seem to mind.

"I just hesitated and popped out," said Bullett, who finished with a game-high 22 points to go with eight rebounds. "I mean, I was way out. I wouldn't even defend myself way out there."

Bullett's bull's-eye gave Washington its sixth win of the year without star forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who is still nursing a left ankle sprain and was termed doubtful for tomorrow's game against Utah by a team spokeswoman. To make matters worse, point guard Annie Burgess was a scratch with a calf strain.

Coach Marianne Stanley didn't downplay the void left by the two players.

"I challenge any team to take away their best player who also happens to be in the top three in the league in every category and then take your starting point guard and go play games," she said. "If you take Lisa Leslie and Tamecka Dixon off the Sparks, tell me what they're gonna do."

For a while yesterday, the injuries threatened to impose a second straight home loss on the Mystics, who were outhustled early by the Shock. During a fast-paced first half, Washington repeatedly settled for pull-up jumpers on fast breaks. When the shots clanged out (Washington made just 1-of-11 first-half 3s), Detroit was in easy position to pull down the rebounds. Cash had 11 all by herself at halftime as Detroit clung to a 32-28 lead.

Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer was not embellishing when he whined to an official, "We're playing hard harder than they are."

Said Stanley: "We can't expect to give up that many offensive rebounds and expect to win. I thought we played defense well, but we didn't finish the defense by blocking out on at least half dozen occasions."

The Mystics did a better job of rebounding in the second half. They shot better, too, hitting nine of their first 14 shots. At the 15:58 mark, Washington held a six-point lead, its largest of the game.

But the Shock didn't fold, reeling off six straight points and answering each go-ahead basket by the Mystics. Forward Astou Ndiaye-Diatta (10 points) hit three game-tying shots down the stretch, paving the way for Cash's layup, which gave Detroit back the lead.

Then came Bullett's bomb, which had so much arc it almost seemed to fall out of the sky.

"That one was deep," Stanley said. "I think that one qualifies as outside the District and out in Montgomery County."

Or, considering that this whole season has been the answer to the Mystics' four-year-old prayers, perhaps it was heaven-sent.

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