- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

Washington Mystics coach Julie Plank has kept an eye on the Eastern Conference standings all season. On Thursday night at Verizon Center, the Mystics gave her something to notice.

Crystal Langhorne led three Mystics players in double figures with 16 points as Washington closed the first half of the season with a 75-64 dispatching of the Chicago Sky.

“This was a big game for us,” Plank said. “Now’s about the time where every game becomes important and you start talking about tiebreakers and those sorts of things.”

The Mystics (8-7) are third in the jumbled Eastern Conference, 3 1/2 games behind front-running Indiana but only one behind second-place Connecticut. With Thursday’s win, they distanced themselves from Chicago and Atlanta, which are both 8-10 and now 1 1/2 games back.

The Mystics built a lead thanks to their defense. Chicago entered the game ranked third in the league in field goal percentage and first in 3-point percentage, but the Mystics swarmed the ball all night. Washington keyed on shutting down the Sky’s All-Star post duo of Sylvia Fowles and Candice Dupree, both of whom torched the Mystics in the paint in Chicago’s home win June 27.

Washington’s rotating post trio of Langhorne, Chasity Melvin and Nakia Sanford played physically with Fowles and Dupree, forcing them as far away from the basket as possible. For most of the game, the Mystics picked up Fowles and Dupree at the 3-point line to deny them access to the paint. And at all times, Washington’s guards were ready with help defense.

The result was a 5-for-15 shooting night for Dupree and a 2-for-7 effort for Fowles.

“Everyone came in and they did their part,” guard Alana Beard said. “We may have one or two mistakes here and there, but we kept hitting back defensively.”

Langhorne sparked the Mystics early, flashing an expanding offensive repertoire. In the first quarter, Chicago was content to leave her open, and she knocked down three straight midrange jumpers.

As the game progressed, Sky defenders stepped out to challenge Langhorne’s shot, but that opened up lanes for her to convert driving layups. It was a performance reminiscent of her days starring for Maryland: highly accurate shooting (8-for-10) to go along with double-digit rebounds (10).

“My coaches and my teammates have a lot of confidence in me to take that shot,” Langhorne said. “And when they started coming out, I started going to the basket, which is what I love to do.”

The Mystics used an 11-0 run overlapping the first and second quarters to gain a double-digit lead. More importantly, they were able to maintain that lead the rest of the game.

The Mystics have blown several fourth-quarter leads this season, but Thursday they finally found a way to close out a game. Washington held a 15-point advantage after the third quarter. Even though the Sky outscored the Mystics in the fourth quarter, guards Lindsey Harding and Matee Ajavon continually made big shots down the stretch to squelch Chicago’s comeback attempt.

“I think this was a statement game simply because it was our only time on TV and people took notice and secondly and more importantly because we now hold the tiebreak over Chicago,” Beard said.

MONARCHS 88, LIBERTY 73: Nicole Powell scored a career-high 32 points and had nine rebounds to lead Sacramento in New York and snap a six-game losing streak.

SILVER STARS 84, FEVER 65: Sophia Young scored 22 of her 24 points in the first half, helping host San Antonio past Indiana.

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