- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

After three months of battling inconsistency, the Washington Mystics played a complete game Sunday against an Eastern Conference power.

From the start, the Mystics looked like a winning team. They took an early lead, withstood multiple comeback attempts and made free throws down the stretch to earn a 69-64 win over the Connecticut Sun at Verizon Center.

“We put our hearts and souls out there on the court tonight,” said point guard Nikki Blue, who scored a career-high 13 points. “We really needed this win. We need to come out and make this push for the playoffs.”

Continuing to win at home this month will be crucial for Washington (8-12) if it wants to make up ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race before the Olympic break. The Mystics have four home games and two road games left this month.

The Mystics opened up a double-digit lead in the first half by going on a 19-2 run in an eight-minute stretch. While Washington’s offense was operating smoothly, the Sun were content to play almost exclusively on the perimeter, and they misfired often. As the Sun kept missing from the outside, the Mystics packed their defense in tighter, and the drought continued. By the time it was over, Washington held a 13-point lead.

But then Connecticut, the second-highest scoring team in the league, awoke behind point guard Lindsay Whalen. She made two free throws to score the Sun’s first points of the second quarter with 4:01 remaining and then poured in 10 more as the Sun nearly erased the Mystics’ lead with a 16-5 run, drawing within 36-34 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Mystics capitalized on Connecticut’s poor play. Blue scored 11 of her 13 points on 4-for-4 shooting. She knocked down three 3-pointers and one driving layup as the Mystics outscored the Sun 23-12. Blue’s outburst was especially important because guard Alana Beard left the game with 7:18 remaining in the quarter after suffering a bruise above her right eye.

“They played tremendous defense. We needed stops, and they got them [while I was out of the game],” Beard said. “More importantly they executed the offense. The third quarter won us the game.”

Beard returned in the fourth quarter with a half-shut, swollen eye to help Washington withstand one more comeback attempt by Whalen and Connecticut. The Sun were outscoring the Mystics 16-5 in the fourth when Whalen made a layup that cut the Mystics’ lead to 63-62 with 54.6 seconds left. But despite Whalen’s career-high 33 points, the Sun were never able to tie or take the lead. Beard made a jump shot on the Mystics’ next possession to give them some cushion.

“[The coaching staff] told the team today it’s on them,” Mystics coach Tree Rollins said. “We have them prepared, and as a professional player you have to come out and do the job. They responded today. I was very proud of them.”

Sky 79, Dream 66

Chicago | Jia Perkins and Candice Dupree scored 18 points each to help Chicago snap a four-game losing streak with a victory over Atlanta.

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