Sunday, July 1, 2007

It’s the same every game.

Minutes after the start, Washington Mystics guard Nikki Blue sits anxiously on the bench, awaiting coach Tree Rollins to put her on the floor.

“My knees start shaking because I know it’s going to be my turn,” Blue said. “I’m so excited to get playing time. I just leave it all out there every time I go on the court.”

That might be an understatement considering the 5-foot-8 Blue’s recent performances.

The second-year player scored a career-high 12 points in the Mystics’ 91-75 victory over the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday. In Friday’s 65-64 upset of the Detroit Shock, Blue scored all of her six points in the last 6:45, making all three of her shots from the field.

Though overshadowed by Washington’s starting five, including Alana Beard (18.1 points) and DeLisha Milton-Jones (14.5 points), Blue has been a key part of the Mystics’ three-game winning streak entering today’s home game against the Indiana Fever.

“It’s what everybody has been waiting to see,” Milton-Jones said. “All she needed was the opportunity. Last year it was a trying time for her as a rookie, but she’s really coming into her own. You can see she’s not wide-eyed when she comes to the court.”

Blue is averaging 12.6 minutes a game, up from 7.5 a game last season under then coach Richie Adubato. She often spells starting shooting guard Nikki Teasley, who gives encouragement “Nikki, I can’t do it. You go out there and take those guards,” to Blue as they pass.

Teasley, a five-year veteran, said Blue complements her well with her size, youth and athleticism.

“She’s shorter than I am, so she gets to chase the little guards around,” Teasley said. “She gets into the lane a lot easier than I can because she’s so low to the ground.”

Blue proved valuable in Friday night’s win. With Teasley having an off game (no points), Rollins went with Blue, who pushed the ball up the floor more than Teasley.

“My thing is whatever unit is working,” Rollins said. “We start with the starters. But we stay with whatever unit is working at the time.”

Blue’s effort came after an exchange with Beard at halftime.

“What can I do to help?” Blue asked.

“I want you to make it known that you’re out there on the court,” Beard said.

That sums up Blue’s role with the team: providing energy off the bench.

Blue has no problem with that. She learns from the starters and realizes she shouldn’t worry about making mistakes.

Last season, Blue thought the minutes were already set in place regardless of how she performed on the court.

“Coming off the bench and not getting my playing time at all last year, I’m in the position where it can’t get any worse,” Blue said. “I may as well leave it all out there. I’m playing for this team. I’m playing to help this team. Whatever I can do to help the team is what I will do.”

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