- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

Anyone looking at the Washington Mystics' 4-1 record could ask, "Who have they played?" All that changes tonight when the four-time WNBA champion Houston Comets play the Mystics at MCI Center.

Despite getting off to the best start in franchise history, the Mystics know the Comets (5-2) are the barometer of legitimacy. The Mystics have lost all eight meetings against the Comets in the past four seasons. A Mystics' win would announce the team's arrival as a contender.

One game doesn't make a season, but this is a big game. A win over Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Janeth Arcain and the rest of the Comets would go a long way to boost the Mystics' confidence.

"We've got to go out and give this team a run for their money," said Mystics star forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who leads the league in scoring (23 points) and rebounding (12). "It's to the point now and we've played pretty well but this is one of the top teams in the league. We need to go out and establish ourselves against the best. That's what we're shooting for. We want to be the same team that Houston has been in the past."

And that has been pretty darn good. Swoopes and Thompson both played starring roles in the Comets' run of four straight WNBA championships. Swoopes, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, appears back to the form that made her the league's MVP in 2000.

Already this season, Swoopes is among the league leaders in three offensive categories. Swoopes and Thompson are tied for 10th in scoring, averaging 16.9 points. Swoopes is second in the league in steals (2.86) and fifth in assists (4.6).

"[Swoopes is] an extremely versatile player and she's their emotional leader," said Mystics first-year coach Marianne Stanley. "She and Tina are both leaders who lead in statistical categories as well as the emotional, or spiritual if you will, and affect on their team. They're the ones with the experience, the confidence, they're the go-to players, and they are the ones when things are down, they pick the team up. [Owning four rings] speaks for itself."

The Comets stumbled out of the blocks this season and averaged just 58.7 points in their first five games. But in each of their last two games, the Comets have topped 70 points.

Meanwhile, the Mystics winners of three straight will need to call on their defense to keep their unbeaten home record (3-0) intact. Swoopes, Thompson and Arcain (9.6 points) are all capable 3-point shooters. The Mystics will need to do a better job of switching off the high screens against the Comets than they did in their last game a gritty 76-67 win Sunday over the Miami Sol.

Miami forward Sheri Sam torched the Mystics for 23 points and guard Sandy Brondello added 15 all from the perimeter. Stanley knows if any of the Comets' "Big Three" receive a glimmer of daylight, the ball is going up.

This is a defining game for the Mystics and the players know it.

"We need a game like this to put Washington on the map," said rookie forward Stacey Dales-Schuman. "Anytime you play the best teams, you're only going to get better. You can measure yourself on a different level."


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