- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

The rest of the WNBA's Eastern Conference is chasing Chamique Holdsclaw and the first-place Washington Mystics. If there is a team out there that is going to catch them, the Cleveland Rockers are not it.
Just in case that wasn't already clear from the Mystics' victory at Cleveland earlier this year, the Mystics pounded the Rockers 63-45 yesterday to stay unbeaten at MCI Center. Holdsclaw easily posted her fifth double-double of the year, notching 18 points and 15 rebounds, and the Mystics' supporting cast thrust into the spotlight after two Washington starters were game-day scratches took care of the rest.
It was the Mystics' second straight victory after having a six-game winning streak snapped last week at Charlotte. Washington (9-2) now will head west for three games, including a showdown Thursday against Los Angeles (9-1), which leads the Western Conference.
"We're moving in the right direction," said Holdsclaw, the league's leading scorer and her conference's leading vote-getter in the All-Star balloting. "We want to be Eastern Conference champs and advance to the finals. The East hasn't always fared well they always lose the All-Star Games and we hear it from [the West players]. They talk trash. We want to make a statement by playing well out there."
Not even a 10-minute delay at the start of the game because of a malfunctioning shot clock could slow Washington once it settled into the fast-paced groove that had it tied as the conference's most prolific offense entering yesterday. Led by Holdsclaw, who shot a blistering 7-for-9 for 16 points in the first half, the Mystics held a 10-point halftime lead.
Washington had been here before. In the teams' first meeting, a 69-63 Mystics victory on June 14, Washington also led by double-digits in the second half but allowed Cleveland (3-6) to whittle it down to a one-possession game in the final minute. This time, the verdict was never in doubt; the Mystics forced 17 turnovers and outrebounded the Rockers 40-26.
"Cleveland's a much better offensive team than they showed today," Washington coach Marianne Stanley said. "But I thought we defended well and took them out of their game."
If it seemed like the Mystics could have beaten the Rockers with two hands tied behind their backs, it was because they did. Washington was without two of its top playmakers rookie forward Stacey Dales-Schuman (flu) and point guard Annie Burgess (lower back strain). Dales-Schuman led the team in scoring in the Mystics' first win over Cleveland with 20 points, while Burgess averages 4.5 assists a game. But in a development that is quickly becoming a trend with this Mystics team, the rest of the Washington lineup refused to let the pace slacken.
Spot-starter Murriel Page, deployed in place of Dales-Schuman, scored 10 of her 15 points in the second half when the Mystics put the game out of reach. Guard Audrey Sauret, making her first start of the year for Burgess, slashed her way to a season-high six points to go along with three assists.
"The parts are interchangeable," Stanley said. "We have people who come off the bench and play well and can easily be starters for us or any other team."
Those contributors kept the Rockers playing catch-up all night. At the height of Washington's first-half assault, a fast-break layup by Coco Miller (12 points) off an outlet pass from forward Vicky Bullett gave the Mystics a 13-point lead at the 5:07 mark. It was their biggest of the game up to that point.
At the start of the second half, Sauret opened the scoring by banking home a running jumper that gave Washington a 12-point edge. Holdsclaw then blocked Cleveland forward Penny Taylor's shot and fed Page for a nifty alley-oop layup. Holdsclaw pumped her fists, and Cleveland called a timeout. The rest of the second half proved to be just a formality.
Stanley said she was encouraged to learn that Burgess' injury is a muscle strain and not a disc problem. Burgess suffered the injury in the shower before the game and did not dress. Dales-Schuman was in uniform despite vomiting right before the game but asked to return to the locker room early in the second half because she was not feeling well. Both players are listed as day-to-day.

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