- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Washington Mystics made the season’s home finale one to remember.

The Mystics staged an impressive comeback to set a franchise record for wins last night with a 78-66 victory over the Detroit Shock last night at Verizon Center. Washington erased a 16-point deficit, built an 11-point lead, saw that dwindle to two and staged one final rally to pull out the win. The result was the team’s 18th win of the season — breaking a record of the nine-year old franchise. It also gives the Mystics only their second winning record and the first in four seasons.

“The way we have been playing the last few games was sort of like having a playoff atmosphere,” guard Alana Beard said. “We are rising to the occasion — and I am loving it.”

DeLisha Milton-Jones led the Mystics with 23 points and hit numerous big shots as the momentum changed. Beard added 21 points. However, the inside play also made a difference. Nakia Sanford received a rare start at forward, giving Washington a bigger starting lineup. The 6-foot-4 Sanford contributed 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Overall, the Mystics (18-15) outrebounded the Shock 41-33, including 19-11 in the second half.

The Mystics played the role of spoiler for the Shock (22-11), who needed the win to earn the Eastern Conference’s second spot and a homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

“They rebounded very well and we didn’t do a good job keeping them off the offensive glass,” Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We didn’t play good solid post defense. They wanted this game more than us was the bottom line.”

Washington outscored Detroit 24-11 in the third quarter after setting the stage for the comeback by outscoring the Shock 21-11 in the second quarter. It was needed after the Shock led by 14 after the first quarter and soon were ahead 31-15 with 8:13 left in the first half.

The Mystics, who already earned the fourth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, will meet top-seed Connecticut in a best-of-three series beginning next Friday a Verizon Center. Games 2 and 3, if needed, will be at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

The Mystics needed one final run after a steal and layup by All-Star forward Cheryl Ford (11 points, eight rebounds) to cut the lead to 59-57 with 6:54 left. Washington’s Coco Miller (six points, 3-for-3 shooting) responded with a pull-up jumper. The Shock’s Angelina Williams missed and Beard’s baseline jumper reasserted the Mystics command for good at 63-57 with 5:58 left.

Milton-Jones gave Washington some more breathing room with a jumper from the top of the key to make it an eight-point advantage. It was one of the forward’s best performances in her two seasons in Washington after being acquired for Chamique Holdsclaw. Milton-Jones shot 8-for-16 from the field and grabbed eight rebounds.

“We found all the shooters in the zone [defense] in the second half and were able to knock them down,” said Mystics coach Richie Adubato, who will make his first playoff appearance in his second season with the team.

The Mystics showed their resilience in the second quarter with an impressive comeback and trailed 37-33 at halftime. After Detroit led 31-15 early in the quarter, Washington reeled off a 16-4 stretch to make the game competitive.

Notes — Mystics starting forward Crystal Robinson (sprained ankle) missed her sixth consecutive game while reserve forward Latasha Byears (foot tendinitis) missed her second straight. Robinson could return as early as tomorrow. … Next Friday’s playoff game will start at 7 p.m. and air on CSN. Game 2 will be at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 20, and be televised by Channels 7 and 2.

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