- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2009

Washington Mystics coach Julie Plank has preached to her team all season that defense will lead to offense.

The Mystics have improved their defense recently, holding opponents to 41.9 percent shooting in their past five games and steadily lowering their opponents’ season average to 43.5 percent.

But Washington is just 1-4 in that span. While the team has been getting fast-break points, it has been hard-pressed to get easy looks from its halfcourt offense.

As a result, the Mystics have found themselves in big holes early in games (at Los Angeles, Sacramento and Seattle) that they haven’t been able to crawl out of. So in preparing for Sunday’s game against Minnesota, Plank went back to the offensive basics.

“Our turnovers are down, but I don’t think we’re shooting the ball real well,” Plank said. “Executing, setting screens, moving the ball, having an inside presence is what our focus is.”

With six games left in the regular season, the Mystics are still looking for consistency from game to game.

“It was just a matter of us just not being on the same page,” Alana Beard said. “We had a great practice where Coach got us each doing whatever we do best. The games where we have put that together, we’ve been tremendous, so we just have to really concentrate on making it a puzzle.”

Plank gave the team two days off after it returned from the West Coast - a four-game trip spread out over a week. The Mystics were gone for nine days and spent three days in Seattle and three days in Phoenix because of the way the games were spaced out, capped by a red-eye trip home.

Since each game the rest of the way is critical, Plank wanted to avoid any burnout.

“It is good for the entire team to get that mental break,” Beard said. “The West Coast trip was a hard trip for us. We are in a position where we have to win at least four of these last six games and possibly more to make the playoffs. So just to have that mental break for two days straight is priceless.”

Despite their recent slide, the Mystics are only a half-game out of the playoff picture - tied with Chicago in the loss column - and are confident in their ability to finish strong.

“At this point in time, you just gotta play hard and stick together, and I think our team has done that all year,” Plank said. “We’ve just got to get back and finish the season the way we started, and I think we’re very capable of doing that.”

Note - Beard has been getting daily treatment on her ankle after rolling it against Seattle on Tuesday; she said there shouldn’t be any ill effects come Sunday. “It’s better - a lot better, actually,” she said. “I don’t even think it’s that big of a deal. It’s just another ankle injury.”

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