- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — In an improbable climax to a game that appeared decided a couple of minutes earlier, Alana Beard had a chance to extend the Washington Mystics’ season yesterday.

Beard’s 3-point shot with 5.1 seconds left from the top of the circle was just off to the right, bouncing off the rim as the Connecticut Sun held on to clinch the best-of-3 WNBA Eastern Conference semifinal with a 68-65 victory. The Sun advanced to the Eastern Conference final for the fourth straight year and will face Detroit.

It never seemed as if it would be that close. The Mystics trailed the Sun by 10 points with 2:23 left. But Washington scored 12 of the next 17 points and had the ball with 7.6 seconds to go.

Beard, who had just nine points in Game 1 on Friday, had a team-high 21 points on 7-for-21 shooting yesterday. She scored seven points in the final 1:15 as she tried to will the Mystics to a victory.

“I don’t think I could ask any more from my teammates,” Beard said. “We gave all that we had, and the only sad part is that we came up on the short end of the stick. We played with great intensity every single minute of the game.”

With 20.2 seconds remaining, Beard hit a 3-point shot from the top of the circle to bring Washington within 66-63. And when Connecticut tried to inbound the ball, Beard intercepted the pass from Taj McWilliams-Franklin and drove to the basket to cut the lead to 66-65 with 9.8 seconds left.

Beard fouled Connecticut’s Lindsay Whalen with 7.6 seconds left, and Whalen sank two free throws for a three-point lead. Crystal Robinson then inbounded the ball to Beard, who had her chance.

Washington used a mixture of four defenses to slow down the Sun, who shot 27.8 percent (20-for-72) from the floor. It was the best defensive effort in Mystics playoff history. They held Charlotte to 36.8 percent shooting in 2002.

The Mystics were plagued by foul trouble. Chasity Melvin fouled out, while DeLisha Milton-Jones, Robinson and Coco Miller each had five. The Mystics were called for 32 fouls compared to 17 for the Sun.

“We really had to juggle our lineup [because of fouls],” Mystics coach Richie Adubato said. “I’m very proud of the fact we fought so hard.”

The Mystics led by as many as five in the first half, sparked by Milton-Jones (13 points) and Nikki Teasley (16 points), but the Sun had a one-point lead at the half.

Washington led by three in the third quarter before Connecticut seized control with a 12-2 surge sparked by six points from 7-foot-2 Margo Dydek. Her size hampered the Mystics’ offense, which briefly moved into a jump-shooting mode.

Washington, which shot 32.4 percent from the floor and had 18 turnovers, kept battling to the end. But for the second time in three years, the Sun sent the Mystics home. Connecticut beat Washington 2-1 in 2004 Eastern Conference semifinals.

“We put some new people together this year, and it was our first year as a unit and we’re growing,” Adubato said. “We played with heart and hustle every night. That’s all we asked them to do. Just give us everything you’ve got.”

Katie Douglas led Connecticut with 16 points but hurt her right foot in the last minute of the game and left the building on crutches. Whalen added 15.

“I’ve never see us play that badly offensively and win,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “Our defense was good. Our offense was terrible. Not just in execution but we missed more shots than I’ve ever seen us miss.”

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