- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2004

The Washington Mystics’ improving defense will be tested today by the Houston Comets’ high-scoring duo of Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson at Toyota Center.

Or will it?

Washington still allows 71 points a game, most in the WNBA. But the Mystics (5-6) could get a welcome break if Thompson remains sidelined. The league’s second-leading scorer at 20.6 points has missed the last four games for Houston (7-7) because of a severely strained left calf.

The Comets hoped Thompson would be back Friday, when they lost to Sacramento 61-55. Regardless, the Mystics expect to see the 6-foot-2 perennial all-star in Houston’s starting lineup today. The Comets are 1-3 without Thompson, with three of those games on the road.

“I don’t think Sheryl and Tina are going to win a game by themselves,” Mystics forward Murriel Page said. “To be a championship team, you need your supporting cast. We have to worry about their other players.”

Swoopes, the league’s eighth-leading scorer at 17.3, and Thompson score more than 50 percent of the Comets points (62.5). Beating Houston, which the Mystics have done just once in 10 games, starts with shutting them down.

With guard Cynthia Cooper retired, Swoopes and Thompson are the last links to the Houston dynasty that won the first four WNBA championships. Thompson (3,385 points) and Swoopes (3,063) are two of only five players in league history who have topped 3,000,

“When you have two players down there that can flat-out score, you better bring your ‘A’ game,” said first-year Mystics coach Michael Adams. “The key for us is if we come ready to play, we’ll compete with anybody.”

Adams plans to mix defenses. When the teams goes to man defense, Page most likely will be assigned to Swoopes and Chamique Holdsclaw to Thompson.

What Adams doesn’t want to see is Holdsclaw, the WNBA’s leading scorer at 21.2 points, expending all her energy defending Thompson, who can post up or go outside and drain 3s.

“I’ve played against Thompson the last two seasons and have been very successful at it,” Holdsclaw said. “She’s a good friend of mine. That’s what it’s about, going out and competing against the best.”

Swoopes’ quickness allows her to beat defenders off the dribble, and she is an excellent shooter, making 44 percent of her shots. If the 6-2 Page can’t handle Swoopes, look for the job to go to rookie guard Alana Beard, a defensive specialist.

“She’s an Olympian and one of the best players in this league,” Holdsclaw said of Swoopes. “So, of course, you’ve got to go out there and look forward to her coming out and having a stellar game. So you try your best to contain her.”

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