- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006

At 5-foot-11, Latasha Byears hardly looks like a menacing WNBA post player.

The 32-year-old Washington Mystics reserve was considered a nice, yet somewhat risky free-agent signing after she sat out the last three seasons with off-court troubles.

Last night, Byears showed why she may be worth the gamble, totaling 20 points, 14 rebounds — nine on the offensive end — and four steals in the Mystics’ 90-75 win over Minnesota. The effort helped the Mystics turn a nine-point first-quarter deficit into a blowout in front of 6,598 at Verizon Center.

“Our goal as a team is to get 10 offensive rebounds a game to give you an idea how well she played,” Mystics coach Richie Adubato said. “She was a force up front. Our frontline players were only fair tonight — except her.”

Byears and Washington’s defensive pressure and subsequent fastbreaks overpowered the Lynx (0-3).

Washington forced 25 turnovers (16 steals) and scored 38 points off fastbreaks, improving to 2-1 for the first time in four seasons and 2-0 at home.

Mystics guard Alana Beard had a game-high 25 points, while DeLisha Milton-Jones added 12 points and five steals. But it was a trio of veteran newcomers that provided the biggest boosts.

The defense of 32-year-old free-agent Crystal Robinson’s flustered Lynx star Seimone Augustus. The No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, Augustus finished with 23 points, but only 13 in the final three quarters.

Nikki Teasley was the catalyst for the Mystics’ explosive fastbreaks. The point guard, who was acquired in the offseason from Los Angeles for 2005 Rookie of the Year Temeka Johnson, had 11 points and nine assists.

“We picked up additions that can complement everyone that was here last year,” said Beard, who shot 10-for-16 and 3-for-4 from 3-point range. “You can really see a difference this year.”

The Mystics turned the game around after falling behind 22-13 in the first quarter.

They trailed 32-26 before scoring eight straight on what proved to be a 15-3 run. Nakia Sanford’s post move and basket tied the game, and a pair of free throws by Byears gave Washington a 34-32 lead — its first of the game — with 5:12 left in the half.

Minnesota pulled within one in the final minute, but Washington scored eight straight to take a 49-41 lead. The Mystics opened the second half on an 8-2 run to build an insurmountable 57-42 advantage. The Lynx never challenged after that as Byears continued to control the glass.

“They had 15 offensive rebounds, nine to Latasha Byears,” Lynx coach Suzie McConnell Serio said. “She was the difference maker coming off the bench.”

Byears, who helped the Sparks to two WNBA titles, took the standout performance in stride.

“I just had it going on the rebounds,” said Byears, who is in her seventh WNBA season and spent the offseason playing in Turkey. “I am not trying to prove anything. I am already a two-time champion. I just want to bring some of that experience over here.”

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