- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2002

The Washington Mystics will have to survive one more game, and possibly two, without All-Star forward Chamique Holdsclaw.
Washington coach Marianne Stanley said yesterday that although Holdsclaw was the sharpest she has looked in weeks during a morning practice at MCI Center, she will not dress for tonight's home game against Utah and is questionable for Thursday's game at Detroit.
"The doctor said he thinks [Holdsclaw will return next] Saturday," Stanley said. "If we get real lucky and she feels real good and he gives his blessing, we're not ruling out Thursday."
Holdsclaw, who first hurt the ankle June 28 at Portland, took part in fullcourt drills at game speed yesterday and reported afterward that she felt comfortable. Before that, she had participated only in light workouts.
"She looked really, really good," Stanley said. "It was very encouraging to see. She's not ready yet, but she's pretty darn close."
The Mystics (15-6) also may be without point guard Annie Burgess tonight. Burgess, who has a strained calf, sat out yesterday's practice at MCI Center and her availability will be a game-time decision.
Tonight's game will be the 10th Holdsclaw has missed, accounting for almost half the season. Before the injury, she was a serious contender probably even the favorite for the league's MVP Award while averaging 19.9 points and 11.8 rebounds. Of the 12 games she has played, she was Washington's leading scorer in nine.
By now, the courageous response to Holdsclaw's injury by the rest of the Mystics is old news.
During Holdsclaw's absence, different players have helped take up slack. Washington has gone a remarkable 6-3 without its best player to stay atop the WNBA's Eastern Conference.
The latest hero was forward Vicky Bullett, who scored a game-high 22 points in Washington's 63-59 victory over Detroit on Thursday.
"We're trying to fill her shoes as best we can," Bullett said. "We're using more motion in our offense and taking better shots. With Chamique, we can take quick shots, but it's different without her."
As admirable as Washington's perseverance has been, the loss of Holdsclaw finally may be catching up with the Mystics. With one less forward in the mix, the burden has fallen on the 34-year-old Bullett, as well as Murriel Page and Asjha Jones, to play increased minutes.
The Mystics did sign free agent center Katryna Gaither earlier this week, but she has participated in only two practices with the team and has not played in a game.
"We need Chamique in our forward rotation," said Bullett, who played 35 minutes in Thursday's win. "Our minutes are up and I told Coach 35 is too much for me. But we have no choice right now. It's a lot on Asjha, too, because she's playing the 3, the 4 and the 5. With her young body, hopefully we can get by with it until Chamique gets back."
Meanwhile, the Mystics continue to confound the skeptics who picked Washington to finish last in the Eastern Conference at the start of the season. Stanley took exception to that prediction and tacked a copy of it to the locker room wall. It has provided motivation ever since.
"I'd have ranked us last, too," Bullett said of the Mystics, a perennial loser before this season. "Who wouldn't? But we knew we were better than last year, so let everyone look at us that way. They still can if they want to. We've turned it into an advantage."


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