- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2004

The Washington Mystics didn’t need Chamique Holdsclaw last night to keep their playoff hopes alive. Strong defense and rebounding carried the Mystics to a convincing 71-59 victory over the first-place New York Liberty before 10,037 at MCI Center.

The Mystics, who led the entire way, improved to 14-16, just one game out of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot. The Mystics pounded the Liberty 37-26 on the glass and limited New York to 36.4 percent shooting.

Alana Beard scored a game-high 26 points, and forward Chasity Melvin added 13 of her 17 points in the second half. Center Nakia Sanford recorded her second career double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds as the Mystics scored 48 points in the paint.

“A big problem with us has been rebounding,” Beard said. “As a team, we buckled down and decided to finally get it done. Nakia Sanford and Chasity Melvin and Murriel Page did an awesome job down low.”

Holdsclaw, the WNBA’s third-leading scorer who has been out since late July with an undisclosed medical problem, announced Wednesday she would not return to the Mystics this season. Holdsclaw has missed six straight games and seven of eight overall.

“We really want to buckle down and [qualify for the playoffs] for her,” Beard said. “She misses us. She wants to be here, and I think as a team we’re fighting adversity right now and we’re doing a great job of it.”

Beard was the Mystics’ main option with Holdsclaw absent, finishing one point shy of her career high in points.

Led by the 6-foot-4 Sanford’s eight rebounds, the Mystics yanked down 18 boards and allowed the Liberty just three offensive rebounds en route to a 32-25 halftime lead.

Washington’s aggressive defense forced the Liberty to try everything from the perimeter. New York made just two of 11 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes and finished 3-for-19 from beyond the arc.

“With our team, the key is going to be the defense,” Sanford said. “We have to make sure the other team doesn’t score because we’re missing points with Chamique gone.”

One reason the Mystics contained the Liberty was because they switched on all of New York’s high screens, preventing the Liberty from getting clean looks at the basket.

“New York is going to keep playing and they can make shots, so I wanted to set the tone that we’ve still got to play like the game’s not over,” Melvin said. “[Defense and rebounding are what] won it for us Tuesday night [67-63 over Sacramento], and that’s what won it tonight.”

Crystal Robinson scored a season-high 20 points to lead the Liberty (14-14).

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