- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

Even though the Washington Mystics have dropped both their games against the Indiana Fever this season, they have walked away from each loss assured that they can hang with the Eastern Conference front-runners.

Talent hasn’t been a problem for the Mystics against Indiana - that all five starters scored in double figures Tuesday night serves as testament. Instead, youthful Washington has fallen victim to the superior in-game adjustments and focus down the stretch of the veteran Indiana squad.

What the Mystics are now tasked with is incorporating those elements more consistently into their profile.

“I think we’re getting better but we still have a long ways to go as far as just really making some more plays down the stretch and taking care of the ball,” said 11th-year veteran center Chasity Melvin, who has the most WNBA experience among Washington’s players. “When we play against a team that’s probably as young as us, it kinda works out in our favor. But Indiana’s a veteran team, so you really have no room for mistakes. When we play those veteran teams, we gotta really make a conscious effort in the fourth quarter to make smart decisions.”

Indiana has outscored the Mystics by a combined 13 points in the fourth quarter this season, and Tuesday night it used a 15-2 run to claim the lead for good.

During that stretch, the Mystics were out of sync on both ends of the court, falling victim to the same issues that plagued them in the July 21 loss to the Fever. Turnovers led to easy transition baskets for Indiana and a more hesitant offense for the Mystics.

Washington’s propensity to foul compounded its problems. In the teams’ first meeting, Indiana’s Tamika Catchings went 14-for-14 from the free throw line. On Tuesday, the Mystics held the Fever’s Katie Douglas to a 9-for-19 shooting night, but she went 15-for-16 from the line to set a career high with 34 points.

Washington’s pressure defense is the foundation of its success this year, but Indiana’s stars have found a way to exploit it.

“It’s something that we’re aware of, and I just didn’t think that we adjusted when they were in the bonus,” coach Julie Plank said. “But we’re not going to change what we do. We play man-to-man; that’s our main defense, but I definitely think they were calling it pretty tight.”

The Mystics know they have work to do in adjusting to the tenor of the game, specifically if they get into foul trouble.

“In this league, night in and night out the refs call it a different way,” Melvin said. “As a team, we have to understand exactly how they’re calling it. [On Tuesday] night, I felt a lot of them were touch fouls, but at the same time in the fourth quarter we weren’t as aggressive going to the basket and getting in the paint. So it looked like we were fouling more, but if we took the ball to the basket a lot more, we would have gotten a few calls also.”

The Mystics have been learning on the fly as the year has progressed. Not only do they have a young roster but also one where half the regular contributors are new to the team.

Sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference, they are in the thick of the playoff race. That is why, for now, they can absorb such losses and carry the adjustments into the season’s final two months.

“I think it’s clear that we can compete with these teams,” Plank said. “We’re right up there with the best teams in the East. … I’m very pleased with the effort, the energy and where we are as a team. We had a chance to beat the best team in the WNBA on their home court. We had control of the game at different parts of the game, and overall I’m pleased.”

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