- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 19, 2009

All season, Alana Beard has pointed to Lindsey Harding as the primary reason for the Washington Mystics’ turnaround this season.

On Saturday night at Verizon Center, Harding again backed up her All-Star teammate’s voucher.

Harding scored a game-high 23 points, including two crucial free throws with 8.2 seconds left, as the Mystics beat the New York Liberty 68-67.

“I wanted to be in that position,” Harding said. “As a point guard, you want to feel like you have control. And so it was kind of fitting for me to be there.”

The 5-foot-8 guard was in control from the opening tip. The Mystics managed only six points in the first 7:50, and then Harding promptly scored six points to spark the offense.

The lightning-quick guard was aggressive the rest of the night, taking advantage of New York’s tendency to switch on pick-and-rolls at the top of the key. Harding easily blew past larger defenders for layups; if they backed off too much, she calmly made a midrange jump shot.

“A lot of times teams switch, and I think she’s a hard matchup,” coach Julie Plank said. “I’m surprised teams switch so much on her because I think she’s a great one-on-one player. … She’s very unselfish. She does whatever she needs to do to help this team.

Harding continued her torrid July, in which she has averaged 18 points and 3.8 assists in five games. After scoring in double figures once in Washington’s first five games, Harding has had 10 or more points in eight straight contests. The Mystics acquired her this offseason for a first- and second-round pick to shore up their point guard play. As the team’s leader in minutes, Harding has done just that.

“I think I’ve been doing a better job of reading,” Harding said. “Sometimes I’ll score eight points, and sometimes I score more than that depending upon who’s hot, who’s not and how they are guarding me. I think I’m getting a better read on my teammates and definitely how other teams are playing me.”

Despite the win, there was some concern in the Mystics’ locker room. They have struggled to close out opponents all season, and another fourth-quarter lead almost slipped away Saturday night.

The Mystics led 58-42 after the third quarter but let the Liberty draw within 64-62 with 1:19 left. New York had a chance to tie in the final minute but couldn’t convert when Chasity Melvin blocked Janel McCarville’s driving layup.

Beard hit a jumper in the corner to put Washington up 66-62 with 39.9 seconds left, but New York’s Shameka Christon sank a jumper and was fouled. Christon missed the free throw, however, and Harding iced the game with two free throws before Christon hit a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“I think we become passive, both offensively and defensively,” Beard said. “We don’t play to win. We start thinking too much instead of doing what we did to get us to that point.

“It’s nerve-racking. When we become a great team, it’ll be when we start putting teams away.”

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