- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 18, 2006

Focus was the keyword heard throughout the Washington Mystics’ locker room before last night’s game against the New York Liberty.

And that is just what the Mystics had in their 88-70 win, overcoming the loss of DeLisha Milton-Jones, who sprained her left knee in a collision with Liberty forward Ashley Battle late in the second quarter.

She will be evaluated tomorrow to determine the extent of her injury.

“Unfortunately for us, DeLisha went down and everyone kind of had that in the back of their minds during halftime,” said Mystics guard Nikki Teasley, who played with Milton-Jones for four seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks. “DeLisha is not only my teammate, but she’s been like a sister to me.”

Teasley more than made up for the loss of Milton-Jones, scoring a career-high 26 points, including six 3-pointers in front of a crowd of 7,803. Alana Beard scored 26 points and had four assists.

With the win, Washington improved to 6-0 at home and 7-3 overall.

The Mystics , who have the WNBA’s second-best offense with an average of 84.1 points a game, looked at times throughout the first half as if they had lost their focus.

Battling with the Liberty, who average just 68.5 points a game, the Mystics took a 37-33 halftime lead. It was the Mystics’ first halftime lead since a 93-79 victory over Houston on June 6.

A technical foul against forward Latasha Byears helped the Liberty cut their deficit to single digits (55-46) with four minutes left in the third quarter.

That call preceded a series of personal fouls, which frustrated Mystics coach Richie Adubato to the point of earning a technical foul with 2:40 left. Free throws by Liberty guard Becky Hammon cut the lead to 57-51.

“No matter what the refs call we have to adjust to them,” said forward Crystal Robinson, who finished with eight points. “So we just tried to adjust, keep our heads together and step it up.”

Beard, who had just eight points in the first half, took control of the game in the second.

“It was just intensity level,” Beard said. “In the first half, we were very lax and we allowed them to do whatever they wanted. In the second half, we got up in the passing lane and stopped a lot of their plays, broke their plays down and made them do things they aren’t used to doing.”

Beard also led the Mystics on defense, totaling nine rebounds and five steals.

Aside from foul trouble, the Mystics still had to direct some of their focus toward replacing Milton-Jones, who averages 13.4 points a game and had seven points yesterday before she was injured.

In her absence, center Nakia Sanford scored two points and had seven rebounds.

Forward Shameka Christon led the Liberty (2-9) with 16 points.

“I thought we played three good quarters. The last quarter killed us,” Liberty coach Pat Coyle said.

The Mystics will travel to New York for a rematch on Wednesday, but they most likely will have to do so without Milton-Jones.

“It was a hard price to pay for a win,” Adubato said.

Notes — Adubato spent 5 seasons coaching the Liberty, and Robinson spent seven seasons with the Liberty before signing with Washington last offseason. …

Mystics guard Nikki Blue is finishing final essays on African-American history and the history of the Holocaust to graduate from UCLA this week.

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