- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

A lively crowd turned out at MCI Center to meet and greet the new-look Washington Mystics for their home opener last night. Late in their 69-67 loss against the Connecticut Sun, it was clear the Mystics themselves still could use some time to get acquainted.

DeLisha Milton-Jones, the All-Star forward obtained in the Chamique Holdsclaw trade, arrived Thursday after playing in Spain. Center Chasity Melvin missed two weeks of training camp because she played in Israel. Rookie Temeka Johnson is starting at point guard for the injured Alana Beard, and forward Charlotte Smith-Taylor and guard Laurie Koehn are new.

Then there’s 67-year-old coach Richie Adubato, in his first season with the Mystics. His staff also is new.

Yet with all the fresh faces and recent arrivals, Washington jumped out to an early lead against the Sun. And even after Connecticut came back, the Mystics still led by five points with 3:44 to go. But the Sun, the defending Eastern Conference champions, have a veteran team. The Mystics, who did manage to win their season opener on Saturday, are still trying to figure things out, and Connecticut ended up with a victory in front of 11,166.

“We have a program that we’re trying to institute and it’s not there yet,” Adubato said.

Fueled by Mystics turnovers and indecisiveness on offense, the Sun ran off 11 straight points to turn a 61-56 deficit into a 67-61 lead with 37.9 seconds to go. Koehn nailed a pair of desperation 3-pointers for the Mystics (1-1) but two free throws by Katie Douglas with 5.3 seconds left provided enough of a cushion for Connecticut (1-1). The Sun made 18 of 19 free throws.

“We broke down four or five times,” Adubato said. “You have to execute under pressure. But we have some people who just arrived. … As a result our precision wasn’t there, unfortunately. Because we fought back to go ahead of them and had a nice lead. We had two turnovers and we broke down on our plays twice.

“That was very, very costly. You can’t do that against a Connecticut team who was the Eastern Conference champs last year. They [have] precision, because that’s the same group they had last year. They went all the way to the finals and almost won it. They changed defenses on us. I thought we reacted fairly well, considering we have people who just arrived. When the pressure gets on, it’s even harder for the people who are trying to figure out where they’re supposed to go.”

Melvin made six of 10 shots, scored 15 points and added a game-high seven rebounds. But she was involved in two of the late turnovers. Melvin agreed with Adubato on the familiarity factor, or lack thereof.

“If we’d have been up by 15 points, nobody would have noticed,” she said. “Unfortunately, it was close in the last three minutes, and when it’s a close game you have to execute your plays.

“For us, we have some new people, but if one person doesn’t know, the whole offense breaks down.”

Nykesha Sales, the former University of Connecticut All-American who in her seventh season with the franchise, made just five of 13 shots but hit three of them, including a 3-point basket, during the Sun’s 11-point run. At some point, the Mystics will have veterans who will do the same sort of thing. But not last night.

“Everybody’s basically new that’s playing together out there,” said Melvin, who is in her second year with the Mystics. “So you’ve got to learn each other. It’s only the second game of the season. So without fully knowing the plays, we don’t even fully know each other.”

In Saturday’s season opener in Charlotte, the Mystics beat Sting 60-42. The Sting made just 29.4 percent of their shots. But Melvin said neither she nor her team came into last night’s game with a false sense of security. Charlotte “was just flat,” she said.

Connecticut, which beat the Mystics in the first round of the playoffs last year, might have been a little flat at the start. The Sun missed their first nine shots and fell behind 17-8 with 12:21 left in the first half. That was about the time Sun coach Mike Thibault chewed out an official and received a technical foul.

“It was a little bit intentional,” he admitted afterward. “I felt we needed a spark.”

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