- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Washington Mystics season has come to this: Upset the Connecticut Sun this afternoon or begin their long offseason.

Washington needs to win today and post another upset Tuesday at the Eastern Conference’s top seed to win its first-round playoff series. That’s a considerable challenge since Connecticut is 14-3 at home and has won eight straight against the Mystics, including two this season, at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Mystics are down 1-0 in the best-of-three series after losing Game 1 on Friday night at Verizon Center. For Washington, it was a night of missed shots, defensive breakdowns and frustration.

“It’s over,” Mystics guard Alana Beard said of Game 1. “It’s not easy to get over considering the way we played. It’s hard to get past having my worst night of the year. But we have to get past it.”

Beard missed her first nine shots and was benched for much of the second half. The All-Star guard, who finished with nine points, was the most notable no-show, but not the only one. Point guard Nikki Teasley went 1-for-9, while center Chasity Melvin (eight points, three rebounds) was ineffective mainly because of foul trouble.

The Mystics shot 35.7 percent, including 4-for-20 from 3-point range.

Meanwhile, the Sun, who have won 13 of their last 15, put five players in double figures (led by point guard Lindsay Whalen with 22 points) and shot 48.5 percent.

“We need to keep our intensity up,” said Beard, whose team has won only five of 17 road games. “Our transition defense was horrendous. We allowed Lindsay Whalen to go coast-to-coast. We can’t let that happen.”

Mystics coach Richie Adubato said their strategy won’t change significantly today. The team will pay more attention to Margo Dydek, the Sun’s 7-foot-2 center who had 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting in Game 1. Dydek found openings in the middle of Washington’s zone defense, and she intimidated the Mystics on the other end of the floor.

“We allowed them to get the ball deep into the low post,” Adubato said. “That shouldn’t happen when you are in a zone. Margo Dydek did a lot of things well.”

Other than that, Adubato felt the Mystics did a decent job executing on offense. But he would like to see a lot more open shots fall and players like Beard, Teasley and Melvin bounce back. The Mystics had a one-hour practice yesterday morning, focusing on little things like foul shots. Washington was just 7-for-16 from the line in Game 1.

The Mystics raised expectations before the season with the additions of Teasley and shooting guard Crystal Robinson and were quick to identify themselves as not only a playoff team, but a championship one.

An 18-16 record in the regular season did little to validate that claim, although they did have some injury problems, most notably of star forward DeLisha Milton-Jones missing 11 games with a knee injury. Washington did make the playoffs after missing them last season, largely by beating the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference.

But with everyone healthy for the playoffs, the Mystics felt poised to show they were ready to join the league’s elite — but that was before the Game 1 debacle.

“We have to show all these naysayers across the league and all the journalists that don’t believe in us, whoever they may be, that we deserve to be there,” said Milton-Jones, who totaled 15 points and nine rebounds in Game 1. “We deserve to be respected. We are going to put up or shut up.”

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