- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

The first 5,000 Washington Mystics fans to enter MCI Center for tonight's game against the Seattle Storm will receive a free Chamique Holdsclaw bobblehead doll. The rest will just have to settle for the real thing.

After finally being cleared by team doctors, Holdsclaw will be in uniform for the first time since sustaining a high ankle sprain June 28 at Portland.

"The long wait is over," Washington coach Marianne Stanley said.

Holdsclaw, the Mystics' leading scorer and rebounder, has grown as impatient as anyone during her time on the sidelines.

"I've been waiting a month for this opportunity," she said. "When I first hurt my ankle, I was like, 'OK, I'll be out five or six days.' When the doctor told me it could possibly be four weeks, I was kind of crushed due to the fact that I was probably playing the best basketball of my career."

Stanley said yesterday the team could afford to take its time with Holdsclaw's recovery because the injury happened relatively early in the season. Had it occurred closer to the playoffs, she said, Washington might have rushed her back a bit sooner.

"If [the injury] happened two weeks from now, the approach might have varied slightly, but not much," Stanley said. "Luckily, it happened early enough in the season where we had enough time to get her fully healthy before we bring her back."

A four-time All-Star, Holdsclaw arrives just in time to right the Mystics' ship, which has sprung a few leaks lately after doing its best to stay afloat without her.

The game before Holdsclaw went down, the Mystics were 10-3, undefeated at home and sitting comfortably in first place in the Women's United Soccer Association;s East The night before her injury, they had nearly upset the league's best team, the Los Angeles Sparks.

In the month since, the Mystics have gone 5-5, dropped two of their last three at home and seen their lead in the Eastern Conference cut to 1½ games. On Thursday night, Washington (15-8) lost to the Detroit Shock, who have the league's worst record (5-18).

"We as a group did our job to the best of our ability without [Holdsclaw]," Stanley said. "I thought we did an admirable job. To expect that it's just going to go on endlessly, that's being a little unrealistic."

On Thursday, Washington let a nine-point second-half lead slip away against the Shock in the 64-58 loss. The Mystics were decimated on the boards as the Shock outrebounded them 45-26.

Holdsclaw's return will certainly help in that department. She averages 11.8 rebounds, tops on the team.

"I know right off the bat I can give something to this team with my rebounding," Holdsclaw said. "It really helps our transition game. I think that's kind of slowed down a little bit. I'm able to rebound quick and push it up the floor and put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses."

Despite the loss at Detroit, Washington did not lose any ground in the conference standings. New York and Charlotte, tied for second place at 14-10, also lost Thursday.

The Mystics, who are bidding to clinch home court advantage throughout the playoffs, have a game in hand over both the Liberty and the Sting. Washington will meet New York two more times this season and will play at Charlotte in the final game of the regular season Aug.13.

Notes Center Katryna Gaither was released yesterday. After being signed as a free agent last week, she played just one minute of game action for the Mystics.

The "Mini-Mique" bobblehead dolls will be distributed only at the F Street entrance to MCI Center tonight. The Mystics announced that the team's final regular-season home game Aug.9 against New York will be nationally televised on ESPN.

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