Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Washington Mystics would like to pretend they are undefeated. Mystics coach Tree Rollins wrote 0-0 on the board earlier this week, hoping his team could start the second half of the season with a clean slate.

But the Mystics have the same problems they had before the WNBA All-Star break.

As the 13,997 fans used their flip drums to make Verizon Center deafening yesterday, it would have been easy for the Mystics to feel proud of themselves. They had just defeated the Houston Comets 65-58 after trailing by 14 points at halftime, and the victory left the Mystics (8-12) with a three-game winning streak.

Washington guard Alana Beard brought the team back to reality. The Mystics had defeated the 6-15 Comets, the second-worst team in the Western Conference. And they continued their trend of slow starts and late-game comebacks.

“We can’t win like this,” Beard told her teammates.

The Mystics have trailed after the first quarter in 11 of their 20 games and have rallied to win only four of those. Washington rallied in similar fashion against the Detroit Shock on June 29, when it pulled off a one-point victory after trailing by 16 at halftime.

The Mystics closed out the final 5:59 of yesterday’s game with a 17-1 run, including 11 straight points. The Comets scored only seven fourth-quarter points and couldn’t make a field goal after Tina Thompson’s jumper gave Houston a 57-48 lead with 5:59 remaining. Houston scored only on a foul shot by Thompson after that.

Mystics center Nakia Sanford scored eight of her nine points in the fourth quarter.

“It would’ve been a big loss because we’re in the hunt to try to get into the playoffs,” Rollins said. “We couldn’t afford to lose to teams that we feel we should win [against].”

Washington wouldn’t have won if it hadn’t improved its poor defense and rebounding from the first half. The Comets outrebounded the Mystics 25-15 in the half while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.

Houston breezed past the Mystics’ flimsy interior defense and made eight of its 11 free throws (72.7 percent). Meanwhile, Washington only shot 31.0 percent from the field and suffered a scoring drought from the 1:10 mark in the first quarter until 8:27 remained in the second period.

A frustrated Rollins called a timeout when the Mystics trailed 24-12 with 8:33 left in the second quarter.

Tempers flared when Comets center Michelle Snow was called for a technical foul for elbowing Sanford with 7:03 left in the third quarter. Sanford stormed toward Snow, but Beard pulled her away.

“We need to put that energy into the defensive end,” Beard told her.

The teams were called for 46 total fouls.

“I wasn’t going to do anything,” Sanford later said. “It was just an initial reaction. I don’t really stay angry very long. I was just angry initially. It’s all good. It was the heat of the moment. Michelle is actually a very nice person.”

Trailing 51-41 after the third quarter, Washington opened the fourth with a 7-2 run to reduce Houston’s lead to 53-48 with 6:51 left. Suddenly the Mystics started to limit Houston’s offense and second-chance opportunities. Washington outrebounded Houston 43-39.

Both DeLisha Milton-Jones and Monique Currie finished with double-doubles by grabbing 11 rebounds each and scoring 16 and 11 points, respectively. Beard scored 10 of her team-high 16 points in the final quarter.

“It’s happened too many times,” Currie said of the slow starts.. “It’s nice to have a lead and have other teams chase you. But it still shows how talented we are. When we execute and play hard, we can really make runs on teams.”

Milton-Jones would like the Mystics to erase the first-quarter funk. But she eyed the board that read the Mystics are 1-0 after the All-Star break. She said that’s all that matters in the end — so long as the Mystics don’t repeat their mistakes.

“I don’t care if this was the ugliest game played in history as long as we get that win,” Milton-Jones said. “Coming out of that All-Star break, we don’t want to go on a losing streak. We want to go on a winning streak.”

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