- The Washington Times - Monday, August 3, 2009

Late in the third quarter Sunday, the Washington Mystics appeared to be in position to take control of their game against the Indiana Fever. Lindsey Harding had just gone coast-to-coast to give Washington its biggest lead - and enough momentum that Indiana coach Lin Dunn called a timeout.

Then the fourth quarter started. And following the same old script, the Fever took over, scoring 15 of the quarter’s first 17 points. The Mystics clawed back, but the deficit proved too much to overcome in an 87-79 loss at Verizon Center - their third loss in two weeks to the WNBA’s top team.

“It just seems like we have huge breakdowns in the fourth quarter,” forward Monique Currie said. “It’s happened before, it’s not just tonight and it’s something that we need to figure out and do better. … We continued to fight, but we shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place.”

The same scenario played out in the teams’ first two games: For three quarters, Washington and Indiana exchanged blows, but neither team ever held a commanding advantage. Sunday’s game featured nine ties, but all of them came before the final period.

“They got a lot of easy baskets in the fourth quarter,” Mystics coach Julie Plank said. “I think we have to focus at the defensive end. We gave up 33 points in the quarter, and we just have to get back to playing defense.”

The Fever went with a small lineup at the beginning of the fourth, spreading the floor and operating their offense almost exclusively through the pick-and-roll. The quicker Indiana lineup had no problems dismantling Washington’s defense, getting easy look after easy look.

By the time Plank sent in a fresh set of bodies, it was too late. The Fever needed only 2:11 to grab a 10-point lead, and they expanded it to 16 minutes later.

“I continue to go back to the mental lapses that we have, and we had a huge one in the beginning of the fourth quarter,” said Alana Beard, who finished with 23 points. “I thought we played a tremendous game up until that point. We had a few mistakes, but you expect mistakes in any game. But it’s that fourth quarter in the first 2 1/2 minutes that we saw ourselves down by 10 or 11 points. And against a team like this, you can’t get down by that many.”

All-Stars Katie Douglas (24 points) and Tamika Catchings (19) were at the forefront of the assault. Catchings, who normally is a small forward, played power forward during the fourth, causing matchup problems for the Mystics’ bigger players. Indiana kept feeding Catchings down the stretch, and whenever she was in trouble, Douglas was there to keep the Fever on pace.

“They take advantage of our mistakes, and they finish the game how we want to finish the game,” Currie said. “They’re scoring baskets in the paint, their stars Catchings and Douglas are taking over the game. We need to figure out how to do those things.”

The teams meet for the final time in the regular season Sept. 6.

“If anything, it should be harder for them,” Beard said. “It’s hard to beat a team three times in a row, but it is [frustrating]. You continue to ask yourself, ‘What is it, what is it?’ But we just have to stay positive, which we are, and continue to work hard in those days that we have off.”

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