- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

NEW YORK — The Washington Mystics’ inside defense is coming up short.

Without a big body to alter shots in the lane, the Mystics can’t stop teams from shooting over them. That’s been proven in the last two games for Washington, which has no players taller than 6-foot-4.

The New York Liberty used their inside brawn with impunity and just knocked the Mystics out of the way yesterday. New York center Tari Phillips and power forward Tamika Whitmore combined to score 33 points as the Liberty easily defeated the Mystics 70-57 in their home opener before 15,045 at Madison Square Garden.

Phillips and Whitmore combined to make 12 of 20 shots and pull down 17 of the Liberty’s 30 rebounds. Whitmore (6-2, 190 pounds) had a career-high 13 rebounds, which tied for the third-best rebounding performance in team history. Whitmore, a fourth-year pro out of Memphis, also led four double-figure scorers with 21 points.

Add 6-5 Elena Baranova and 6-2 rookie Linda Frohlich into the mix, and the Liberty’s big players accounted for 43 of the team’s 70 points. By punishing the Mystics (1-2) in the paint, the Liberty improved to 7-0 in home openers.

“I think we’re capable of defending better with who we have. That’s what I think,” Mystics coach Marianne Stanley said. “I don’t think we really made the grade today defending in the post. I don’t think it’s that we lack size or anything. We have athletic people who understand how to defend, and we’re still in the early stages of the season. The defense inside hasn’t been what it can be and should be. It’s still early where you are fine-tuning, and what I see going around the league is that nothing is a sure thing.”

In Saturday’s 71-60 loss at the Indiana Fever, the Mystics were dominated by Fever posts Kelly Schumacher and Natalie Williams, who combined for 22 points on 9-for-17 shooting.

In training camp, the Mystics had the space-eating 6-5 Jenny Mowe but released her to reach the 11-player roster limit. Mystics star forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who finished with a season-low 10 points and nine rebounds yesterday, said it’s too early to start panicking over the Mystics’ lack of size.

“I’m really going to have to step up for this team this year because we’re kind of undersized,” Holdsclaw said. “I’m confident about every player on my team and the inside players. It doesn’t matter what size they are. I think we’ve got a lot of heart. If this is midseason now, we might have to make that [Mowe] call.”

The sudden retirement of 35-year-old Mystics center Vicky Bullett before training camp affected the Mystics’ post defense. The 6-3 Bullett, who pulled down 1,191 rebounds in her six-year career, was a consummate post defender, and the Mystics have yet to find an adequate replacement.

With Bullett gone, the Mystics are relying on 6-2 Murriel Page and 6-2 Asjha Jones to man the middle.

“You can’t take anything away from Murriel or Chamique. They’re both great players, but I think Vicky Bullett with that veteran leadership in the post … I think they’re missing it,” Whitmore said. “It is execution. We took our time [unlike Saturday].”

Like the Mystics, the Liberty played Saturday and were annihilated 74-50 at Cleveland. Against the Rockers, Phillips attempted only four shots and Whitmore took nine. But the Liberty made a concerted effort to pound the ball inside against the Mystics, and it worked.

High turnovers (18) and sub-par shooting also did in the Mystics yesterday. The Mystics shot 35 percent (21-for-60) from the floor, rushing their shots for the second straight game.

The good news is the Mystics play four of their next five games at MCI Center.

“There’s no secret: We’re undersized in the post,” Mystics forward Stacey Dales-Schuman said. “They work hard. Murriel Page works harder than any player in this league in the post. Chamique does what she can with her size. She’s playing [power forward]; most fours in this league are 6-3, [and] she’s not 6-3. We need to be better in help defense.”

Notes — Balloting officially tipped off yesterday to determine the starting lineups for the July12 WNBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Four Mystics — Holdsclaw, Dales-Schuman, Coco Miller and Jones — are on the ballot. … At halftime of Friday’s home opener, the Mystics will honor women in music. Scheduled to appear are Gloria Gaynor, Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge and Amarie.

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