- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

Saturday night’s game between the Washington Mystics and the Chicago Sky was billed primarily as a contest between Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver - former Maryland teammates and the Nos. 2 and 3 overall picks, respectively, in this year’s WNBA Draft.

But after Coleman’s left-ankle sprain kept her from playing, Alana Beard had no trouble filling the spotlight, leading her team to an 81-72 win.

“I thought Alana Beard put us on her back,” coach Julie Plank said.

Beard, the Mystics’ do-it-all guard, seemingly got any shot she wanted and endlessly attacked the Sky’s defense. She defended with exuberance, getting a key steal and block in the fourth quarter. She also tied the game at 64-64 with a jumper at the top of the key and put the Mystics up for good with a 3-pointer in the right corner with 5:27 remaining.

“I know that I can score at any given point when I put my mind to it,” Beard said.

Beard scored 10 of the game’s first 12 points. In all, the five-year veteran netted 31 points on 11-for-18 shooting and dished out five assists in nearly 39 minutes against the Sky.

Eleven of Beard’s 31 points came in the final 12 minutes. Trying to complete a late comeback, Plank asked Beard to handle the ball for most of the final quarter. The result was a 26-14 Mystics advantage.

“Our coaching staff has a lot of confidence in [Beard],” forward Crystal Langhorne said. “If she’s not open, if she doesn’t have the shot, she’s going to pass, which she did in the fourth quarter. She just really helped lead our team.”

The Mystics (4-1) responded to their poor defensive performance against the Dream - Atlanta’s starting frontcourt scored 46 points of the team’s 93 points - by suffocating the Sky, especially in the second half.

“After [the game against the Dream], we were very disappointed in the way we played,” Plank said. “We wanted to play well in front of our home crowd. I thought we turned it up. We really picked up our defensive pressure.”

After the Sky gained a 10-point halftime lead, Washington held them to 10-for-28 from the field in the second half, outscoring Chicago 52-33 in the game’s final 20 minutes. Chicago forward Sylvia Fowles scored 11 points but took only seven shots as the Mystics’ defense routinely doubled her in the post.

“I think we knew we didn’t want to lose,” Langhorne said. “We just really picked up the intensity, and we rebounded [in] the second half.”

Along with hampering Fowles on the defensive end, two members of the Mystics’ frontcourt - Chasity Melvin and Langhorne - came up big offensively, combining for 26 points and 15 rebounds.

In fact, Langhorne’s jump hook with a minute left in the game put the Mystics up six and essentially sealed the game.

“Love it,” Beard said about Langhorne’s game. “She gives us huge minutes every time she’s in the game. She’s very solid.”

The contributions from Melvin and Langhorne were welcome, though Beard’s key play down the stretch was the catalyst behind the Mystics’ win.

“That’s what [Plank] wants; she wants to put the ball in my hands at the end of quarters and at the end of games,” Beard said. “And we executed well tonight.”

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