- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

Washington Mystics fans finally got something to cheer about last night.

Star guard Alana Beard made her season debut and the Mystics finally won a home game in their fourth try, 74-71 over the Minnesota Lynx at MCI Center. Washington showed newfound poise down the stretch that had been severely lacking as it lost the first three of a four-game homestand.

“[Beard] just lifts our team,” said Washington coach Richie Adubato, who also had DeLisha Milton-Jones return after missing the last game with a strained right knee. “Her defense was really good. [Playing] 32 minutes is really scary. But every time I went to take her out, she made a big play.”

Beard, who had been sidelined with an ankle injury, had 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting and helped limit Lynx Olympian Katie Smith, who finished with a hard-fought 20 points as four Mystics covered her.

Mystics rookie Temeka Johnson had another strong game with 12 points and 10 assists to record her second consecutive double-double. But the Mystics couldn’t rest easy until her final assist led to Beard’s layup with four seconds left and made it 74-68.

Johnson made a bounce pass on the break from just in front of the Mystics’ bench, and Adubato patted the 5-foot-3 point guard on the head to begin the celebration.

“It was like you can’t wait until Christmas,” said Beard, who couldn’t sleep the night before in anticipation. “I was very anxious.”

Washington (2-3) now has something positive going as it embarks on a two-game trip, starting tomorrow in New York.

Mystics center Chasity Melvin posted a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Milton-Jones came off the bench with 16 points, including two momentum-changing 3-pointers.

The Lynx (1-3) dropped their second straight as Washington shot 50 percent (6-for-12) on 3-pointers and 48.3 percent overall before an announced crowd of 9,630 that included Washington Wizards Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood in the front row.

“Washington took advantage of us with our defense and rebounds and hustle plays,” said Smith, who was bothered by defenders all night. The WNBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer made eight of 14 shots, but only one of five 3-pointers.

The Mystics used a 9-0 run with three 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to take the lead for good. Laurie Koehn started it with an open look off a pick to bring Washington within 48-47 with 10:04 remaining. The sharpshooting rookie came in shooting 52.2 percent (12 of 23) from long range.

Milton-Jones then added two 3-pointers from the left wing to put Washington ahead 53-48.

“The stars were aligned tonight, and everything felt good. I feel much more confident in the offense now,” said Milton-Jones, who arrived at camp two days before the season opened after finishing her season in Spain. “I was waiting on that. I didn’t really showcase my true talent before.”

The Lynx closed to 72-68 with 28 seconds left on Smith’s layup and had a chance to get closer after stealing the inbounds pass. However, the Mystics forced a turnover before Beard assured the win.

The Lynx led 36-33 at halftime after shooting 51.6 percent. Physical center Vanessa Hayden led Minnesota with 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting. The Mystics were fortunate to be down only three after managing only one offensive rebound while shooting 41.4 percent. Johnson had eight points and six rebounds for Washington.

Beard made eight points on 2-for-6 shooting while playing 16 minutes in the half. Her first points of the season came on a 15-foot jumper off a curl. She had a 3-pointer from the left wing shortly before intermission.

Minnesota broke a 27-27 tie with a seven-point run late in the half. Center Nicole Ohlde gave Minnesota the lead with a runner off the glass, and Stacey Lovelace pushed it to five by banking in a deep 3-pointer. A twisting reverse layup by Tamika Williams boosted the margin to seven with 1:40 left, forcing Adubato to call time out.

Beard came out of the huddle and hit her 3-pointer. After Smith’s layup made it 36-30, Melvin drained a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left before intermission.

Note — Milton-Jones had an MRI on her right knee after feeling a sharp pain in practice Wednesday. She has a slight meniscus tear but was cleared to play. The small forward required surgery last season after tearing an MCL.

“The trainer [Chalisa Fonza] told me it could be the meniscus or it could be the hamstring,” said Milton-Jones, who will be re-evaluated after the season to see if an operation is needed. “I was like, ‘Please no more bad news.’ When the doctor told me what it was, I was relieved.”

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