- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

The game was not even half over, the outcome hardly certain, and yet nearly everybody at MCI Center was laughing at the Houston Comets.
During a timeout with 2:28 to go in the first half and the Comets trailing the Washington Mystics 34-30, some clever Mystics staffer cued up Tom Hanks' famous line from "Apollo 13" on the P.A. "Houston, we have a problem" and mass cackling erupted.
The problem was clear: The Washington Mystics' transition game was producing wide-open outside looks for forward Chamique Holdsclaw. With 18 first-half points, Holdsclaw was well on her way to her second double-double in as many games since missing time following the death of her grandmother.
The trailer on most of Washington's fastbreak opportunities, Holdsclaw hit pull-up jumper after pull-up jumper on 6-for-8 shooting. Only the surprising marksmanship of Houston reserve guards Coquese Washington and Kelley Gibson during that frantic, late-first half stretch kept the Mystics' lead inside double digits. At halftime, the Mystics were already more than halfway to 70 points, a telling omen. Washington is 5-0 this season when it reaches that mark.
"In our transition, they were sagging off of me," Holdsclaw said. "I'm a scorer and I saw opportunities, so I said, 'OK, I'm wide open. Let's shoot it.'"
Holdsclaw's hot hand also opened up chances for her teammates. At the 16:15 mark of the first half, Holdsclaw received a pass in a halfcourt set. Houston forward Sheryl Swoopes had no choice but to cheat off Washington forward Stacey Dales-Schuman to help on Holdsclaw. But that only opened up a backdoor pass and an easy 10-footer for Dales-Schuman, a Canadian-born rookie.
Of course, that type of dominance by Holdsclaw is nothing new. She was the Mystics' leading scorer each of the past two seasons and has been the team's top-point getter in all the games she has played this year. But if that first half represented the Mystics of old, the second half signaled a more balanced Washington squad, one that's now leading the Eastern Conference.
In that second half, Houston finally slowed the tempo and forced the Mystics into a halfcourt set. After nailing a jumper in the first minute, Holdsclaw went scoreless for the next 19 minutes, forcing her teammates to step up. They did, none more so than Vicky Bullett, who nailed two late triples that kept Houston at bay.
"You knew that in that second half, [the Comets] were going to key on me," Holdsclaw said. "But I started reversing the ball, and other people were able to knock down shots. Vicky got hot, Stacey was penetrating and getting fouled. The second half was definitely a team effort."
But Houston wouldn't go down without a fight. Tina Thompson's jumper with 13 minutes left narrowed the Comets' gap to five. Ultimately, Houston got within two with 10:58 left.
After taking a short breather, with 9:36 to go, Holdsclaw was back. On the first possession after her return, she cleaned up a rebound and pushed a fastbreak that generated an NBA-distance 3-pointer by Helen Luz. Moments later, the Mystics had raised their lead to seven.
Inside of four minutes, with the Comets still threatening, Holdsclaw kicked out a pass to Burgess, who missed. Holdsclaw fought for the rebound, her 10th of the game, and found an open Dales-Schuman, but she missed as well. Finally, Bullett emerged in the closing minutes with her crucial pair of 3-pointers.
"Our penetration was hard and [Houston] was not coming out to guard me," Bullett said. "I was just in great position to take those shots."
On the game's final possession, with the victory assured, Holdsclaw earned the night's final basket. It was just enough to push Washington's score to 70 (the Mystics' magic number) and the crowd erupted. A latecomer walking in at that moment might have suspected that Holdsclaw had once again carried the team on her back. But everyone else knew better.
"That's what's special about this team so far no one person has to do it alone," Holdsclaw said. "If a team says to itself, 'If we stop Chamique, we can stop the Mystics,' that's not the truth."


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