- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2006

Alana Beard spent most of the second half of last night’s playoff game against Connecticut on the bench wearing her warmup shirt. The Washington Mystics’ best player was on the bench because of unproductive play after missing her first nine shots.

The Mystics nearly stole the game anyway but ultimately didn’t have enough firepower. A horrific shooting night did in the home team and put its chances of advancing to the second round of the WNBA playoffs in peril.

Connecticut pulled away late in the fourth quarter to post a 76-61 win in Game 1 of the best-of-three series before 8,547 at Verizon Center. The Sun, who are 14-3 at home this season, now have a nearly unbeatable advantage as they will play host to Game 2 tomorrow and Game 3 on Tuesday, if needed.

“Come home up one,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “Mission accomplished.”

Beard, who played just 27 minutes, did not have a field goal until midway through the third quarter. She was benched for about 10 minutes in the second half, but the Mystics still cut a 14-point deficit late in the third quarter to three.

The Mystics had their chance to upset the Eastern Conference’s top seed, but were undone by 35.7-percent shooting, including 4-for-20 shooting from 3-point range.

“This was a must-win, but it didn’t happen,” Mystics forward DeLisha Milton-Jones said. “We still have a chance.”

Milton-Jones kept Washington close in the first half and finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.

Beard finished with nine points on 3-for-15 shooting, while Mystics point guard Nikki Teasley made one of nine shots. The backcourt missed all nine of its 3-pointers. The Mystics also received a sub-par performance from center Chasity Melvin, who finished with eight points and three rebounds in 24 foul-plagued minutes.

“Alana Beard did not have a good game,” Mystics coach Richie Adubato said. “Sometimes that happens to great players. They have bad nights. … Teasley did not have a good night either. You can’t go 1-for-9 and 3-for-15 and have Chasity Melvin on the bench [with five fouls] and think you are going to beat this team. We needed performances, especially from our stars.”

Beard initially declined interview requests before speaking briefly to the media.

“It was just a matter of me having a bad night,” said Beard, who was guarded primarily by Katie Douglas. “I missed shots. I rushed shots. And that’s what happened.”

In contrast, Connecticut shot 48.5 percent and placed five players in double figures. Sun point guard Lindsay Whalen led the way with 22 points, while backcourt mate Douglas had 17. Taj McWilliams-Franklin led Connecticut’s dominance on the boards, particularly in the second half. The forward finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds.

The Sun took control of the game midway through the fourth quarter after the Mystics cut a 14-point deficit to three and Milton-Jones missed a game-tying 3-pointer. Erin Phillips started the closing run for Connecticut by burying an open 3-pointer to make it 61-55 after Asjha Jones found her out of a double-team.

After a Crystal Robinson miss for the Mystics, Margo Dydek connected on a 15-footer to push the Sun’s lead to eight. Milton-Jones cut the lead to six with a layup with 5:26 left, but Connecticut then went on a six-point run to put the game away.

The Mystics had staged a furious rally to come within one shot of tying the game. The Sun led 56-42 late in third after Whalen’s reverse layup. Washington answered with 3-pointers from Robinson and Coco Miller (12 points), who nailed one from the right corner with one second left and the Sun’s lead was down to eight going into the final period.

After Jones banked one in to start the fourth quarter, the Mystics kept up their fast pace and scored seven straight. Robinson started it with a 3-pointer and then fed Melvin for a layup to cut the deficit to five. After Douglas’ 3-pointer bounced out, Robinson cut Connecticut’s lead to 58-55 with an inside basket. A Miller steal set up the attempt to tie the game, but Milton-Jones couldn’t deliver the 3-pointer on the break.

“They played solid defense, but we settled for first and second shots,” Adubato said. “We had a lot of open looks. We just didn’t knock them down.”

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