- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Richie Adubato will look along the sideline tonight and see the team he nearly built into a champion.

Then he will try to get his new team to take it apart.

Adubato, who is in his first season as coach of the Washington Mystics, spent the last six with the New York Liberty, who he took to the WNBA Finals three times. The coach will meet his old team for the first time tonight at MCI Center.

“I can’t wait to get this one over with,” said Adubato, who has had five days to dwell on the reunion since the Mystics’ last game, an 84-75 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks. “I have a lot of history with all of them. But when the ball goes up, they’ll be ready to shoot my eyes out. And we will, hopefully, be ready to defend.”

Washington (1-2), which followed a season-opening victory over Charlotte with two home losses, likely will be short-handed again. Alana Beard is expected to miss her fourth game with a sprained right ankle but could make her season debut Friday night against Minnesota.

Small forward DeLisha Milton-Jones, who was acquired from the Sparks for Chamique Holdsclaw in the offseason, didn’t finish practice yesterday because of a hamstring injury, and her status tonight is uncertain.

“You want the continuity,” said Beard, who also missed both preseason games because of a bad hamstring. “Especially at the beginning of the season, you want everybody to play together.”

Beard’s absence partially explains why undrafted rookie Laurie Koehn is tied with Chasity Melvin for the team scoring lead at 11.7 points despite averaging only 17 minutes. Koehn, from Kansas State, has made 10 of 20 3-pointers and had 15 points in the loss to Los Angeles.

Power forward Charlotte-Smith Taylor is Washington’s only other player in double figures at 10.3. Speedy 5-foot-3 rookie Temeka Johnson, the team’s first-round pick out of LSU, has been particularly impressive, averaging 9.0 points and 5.7 assists while creating in transition.

“When we get healthy, we will be very good, but you have to play through it and hope people step up,” said Adubato, whose team will play three games in five days. “Temeka has stepped up really well. So has Laurie. Right now, we will have to get some very good games from Charlotte, from Chasity, from our bench.”

The Liberty lost their first two games at home. The core of Adubato’s team — Elena Baranova, Becky Hammon, Vicki Johnson and Crystal Robinson — is still there.

“The big key will be stopping their perimeter shooters,” said Adubato, who was fired by New York last year in midseason with a 7-9 record. “They have been getting good shots. They just haven’t been putting them down.”

It will be strange for Adubato to face his old team tonight, especially because he might know more about it than the Mystics.

“I probably do,” said the coach, who was on the losing side of the WNBA Finals in 1999, 2000 and 2002. “I know them very well. Unfortunately, I know their tenacity. I know they have been to the [WNBA] Finals three times.”

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