- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

The Washington Mystics improved their playoff chances yesterday and in the process ensured the Houston Comets would miss the WNBA postseason for the first time in their eight-year history.

Rookie guard Alana Beard scored 21 points and the Mystics bench contributed 22 points as Washington beat the Comets 75-63 for its second win ever against Houston before 11,761 in the regular-season finale at MCI Center.

Yesterday’s win elevated Washington (15-16), which closes out the season at San Antonio, Phoenix and New York, into fifth place in the tightly contested Eastern Conference. The top four finishers in each conference make the playoffs.

If the Mystics, who have won three straight games, win at least two of their final three games, they will finish .500 or better for just the second time in franchise history. Finishing at least .500 usually has been good enough to make the WNBA playoffs.

“If we continue to play as well as we did tonight, then we have a good shot at the playoffs,” Mystics coach Michael Adams said.

The four-time WNBA champion Comets (12-18), who were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, were undone by their sloppy guard play. Houston’s starting backcourt of Dominique Canty and Sheila Lambert turned the ball over seven times. As a team, the Comets committed 18 turnovers that resulted in 25 points for the Mystics.

“This has been a really, really discouraging time for me, it really has,” Comets coach Van Chancellor said. “We’ve got a plan to correct this problem, I just can’t divulge it at this time.”

Chancellor, who also coached the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team, lost star forward Sheryl Swoopes with 13:24 left before halftime yesterday after she was elbowed in the left eye.

Mystics forward Chasity Melvin got tangled up with Comets center Michelle Snow and Swoopes going for a rebound. The 6-foot-5 Snow went over Melvin’s back and pulled down the Mystics’ post player. Melvin’s head bounced hard off the floor and Snow also caught Swoopes in the eye.

Swoopes, a four-time WNBA All-Star who averages 15.6 points, did not return because her left eye was nearly swollen shut.

“I don’t know who it was, but one of them pulled me down, and I’m glad I have my hair braided because it helped,” said Melvin, who scored 11 points to end the day with 2,002 for her career.

After trailing from the start, the Mystics took their first lead at 28-26 on two Stacey Dales-Schuman free throws. Despite shooting just 36.4 percent (12 of 33) in the first half, the Mystics went into their locker room leading 32-31.

The Comets jumped out to a couple seven-point leads in the opening 20 minutes, but 10 turnovers in the half prevented them from breaking the game open.

“We got into foul trouble. If we hadn’t got into foul trouble it probably would have been a different story,” said Beard, who had three fouls in the first half. “It was a great game in the first half, but in the second half our team came out and buckled down defensively and our bench came in and did an unbelievable job.”

Beard, who made 10 of 15 shots, made critical baskets down the stretch for the Mystics. Beard scored six points in the final five minutes when the Comets mounted a charge to save their season.

Forward Aiysha Smith scored six points off the Mystics bench, including two big 3-pointers. Backup point guard Tamicha Jackson contributed 11 points and guard Coco Miller scored five. The trio combined to make nine of 18 shots.

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