- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

CLEVELAND The low-water mark set by the Mystics a year ago in Cleveland is nearly a distant memory, but it remains an appropriate reminder of how far Washington has come in the WNBA.

The Mystics won their fifth straight game last night, beating the Rockers 69-63 in Gund A-rena.

Washington entered the game with the No.1-ranked offense in the WNBA, averaging 81.7 points. The Mystics are a far cry from the team that opened last season here by setting a league record for fewest points in a 69-34 loss to Cleveland.

The Mystics (6-1), off to their best start, are tied with Los Angeles for the best record in the WNBA, and Rockers coach Dan Hughes said the difference between Washington in 2001 and this season is easy to define.

"Chamique Holdsclaw is playing basketball as good as I've seen her play," Hughes said. "That's No.1. No.2 is, they've developed their team chemistry already. Each of their parts are in sync. I don't know if many of the teams in the East are like that right now, where they are."

Another factor is Washington's depth, which enabled the Mystics to put on strong performances on both ends of the floor for the second night in a row.

"We have a great bench now, and the starters don't have to play a lot of minutes," said Holdsclaw, who was one of three starters who played 26 or fewer minutes. "That allows us to maintain a high octane level and push, push, push, push."

The Mystics had every reason to come into the game flat, coming off one of the biggest victories in franchise history Thursday night when they beat four-time WNBA champion Houston for the first time. But Washington took the early initiative against Cleveland, which had been off since Tuesday.

Rookie Stacey Dales-Schuman led Washington with 20 points and made four of five 3-pointers. Holdsclaw had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and her key basket and two free throws in the final 26 seconds enabled the Mystics to repel a Cleveland rally.

"Winning against a team like Houston gives you momentum, but we knew we had to prepare for Cleveland in the right way and be deliberate in our approach," Dales-Schuman said.

Holdsclaw paced another quick start, hitting three of her first four baskets as Washington took a 13-2 lead. The Mystics' tenacious defense had just as much to do with producing the margin. Cleveland missed 11 of its first 12 shots. The gap changed little until the final minute of the game.

Holdsclaw rested for 5½ minutes midway through the first period, but the two teams played fairly even. Washington led 22-10 when she returned with 7:20 remaining.

Cleveland (1-4)didn't make consecutive baskets in the game until Merlakia Jones and Penny Taylor scored to cut Washington's lead to 26-19 with 4:37 to play in the first half. Mystics guard Annie Burgess nailed a 3-pointer to stop that brief run and re-establish a double-digit advantage. Washington led at halftime 33-22.

Dales-Schuman scored 13 points in the second half.

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