- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2009

Everything about the Washington Mystics’ season has signified balance. They have had neither a winning streak greater than three games nor a losing streak longer than two. For the most part, they haven’t blown anyone out or been badly outplayed.

So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that two days after their most emotional victory of the season, the Mystics suffered their most deflating setback.

New York’s Janel McCarville hit an awkward, off-balance, one-handed shot and converted the free throw for a three-point play with 9.1 seconds remaining Sunday afternoon as the Liberty escaped Verizon Center with a 60-59 win over the Mystics.

“I’m obviously very disappointed,” Mystics coach Julie Plank said. “To lose on a three-point play is just not a good thing.”

Washington entered the game last in the WNBA in free throw shooting, and that fault proved costly. The Mystics’ season average of 71.5 percent would have resulted in a win, but they were just 9-for-18 from the charity stripe.

“We can’t go 50 percent from the line and win games,” Plank said. “That was one of the keys to us beating Connecticut [on Friday], and we just didn’t get it done tonight.

“A lot of it is mental: Relax, put them in. I can’t get out there and tell them what to do. We do practice free throws, believe it or not, and it’s just focus. It’s just a concentration thing.”

Washington’s miscues from the free throw line were magnified because both teams struggled to score. The Mystics’ Nakia Sanford spent most of the game battling McCarville down low, but the centers’ production at the line was the difference. McCarville made all seven of her attempts; Sanford was 1-for-6.

“It’s just heartbreaking for me right now because I put so much extra work in on my foul shooting - you have no idea,” a visibly frustrated Sanford said. “So right now I just don’t really understand how I missed that many, considering the extra work that I put in.”

After an evenly matched first quarter, New York (9-15) went to a 2-3 zone defense in the second that baffled the Mystics. Their outside shots were routinely short, and the tight zone prevented them from getting any close easy looks. The result was a six-point second quarter - Washington’s lowest output this year - on 3-for-18 shooting.

Even though the Mystics expended plenty of energy, both physically and mentally, in Friday’s double-overtime win against Connecticut, they insisted their poor shooting wasn’t a carryover from that exhausting affair.

“We do this day in and day out,” said Alana Beard, who led the Mystics with 18 points. “Whether we play a game, come in and practice [the next day], it makes no difference. It’s a mental thing. … You can’t contribute it to anything but a lack of focus.”

The Mystics started hitting shots in the third quarter and were able to erase a 31-23 halftime deficit with an effective third quarter, and the fourth quarter was back and forth to the buzzer. Beard hit a driving baseline layup to put Washington up 59-57 with 23.3 seconds left, but McCarville ultimately foiled her heroics.

The Mystics (12-12) dropped to fifth in the Eastern Conference and are momentarily out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. And now they must navigate a four-game road trip.

“We can’t look back. We can only focus on [Los Angeles] - that’s our next game - and we’ll have to be road warriors,” Plank said. “I’m a little disappointed right now, but our team will bounce back.”

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