- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

Despite rallying from a 15-point deficit, the Washington Mystics suffered their first home loss of the season Thursday night, falling 93-87 to the Phoenix Mercury.

Washington had chances to pull even or go ahead in the final minute. But trailing 89-87, guard Alana Beard missed jumpers on consecutive possessions, and two Mercury layups in the final 13 seconds sealed the outcome.

“We’re very disappointed because this is a game we could have won,” forward Monique Currie said. “We’ve got to figure out how to finish games.”

Phoenix’s up-tempo style created problems throughout, never allowing Washington to maintain momentum. The Mercury (6-3) had a 17-12 edge on the fast break and topped 90 points against the Mystics (4-2) for the third game in a row dating to last season.

The dynamic scoring duo of Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter combined for 47 points for the Mercury. Taurasi stepped up in the fourth quarter especially, hitting two key 3-pointers and scoring Phoenix’s final basket.

“We didn’t execute defensively,” said Beard, who scored a team-high 21 points. “We had mental lapses in crucial parts of the game.

The Mercury had a chance to put the game away early. They led 28-13 in the opening minute of the second quarter, fueled by an 18-2 run in which the Mystics went 0-for-10 from the field with four turnovers.

“It was like there was a lid on the basket,” Beard said. “We were getting good shots, and we usually hit those shots.”

Washington slowly began to chip away at the deficit. Backup guard Matee Ajavon made a 3-pointer to stop the bleeding, and the Mystics pounded the ball into the post for layups on five consecutive possessions in the middle of the quarter. Phoenix’s edge shrank to 35-29 before guard Temeka Johnson and center Tangela Smith helped the Mercury regain control and take a 51-42 lead into halftime.

After falling behind by double digits coming out of intermission, the Mystics once again battled back. Beard hit a shot from beyond the arc in the near corner to tie the score at 57-57 with four minutes left in the third quarter, then sank two more shots to put her team in front 66-65, Washington’s first lead since the first quarter.

Phoenix scored seven straight points to end the half, the last five from reserve Ketia Swanier. The second-year guard from Connecticut provided the Mercury with a much-needed boost off the bench, making all three of her shots and finishing with 10 points in less than 10 minutes.

“She hurt us a lot,” Mystics coach Julie Plank said of Swanier, who had scored just six points in her first eight games this year. “She’s not someone who normally hits big shots.”

Mystics forward and leading rebounder Crystal Langhorne had a quiet first half, but she made up for it in the last two quarters. Langhorne went 6-for-6 from the floor in the second half and pulled down seven rebounds - four of them on the offensive end. She ended up with 16 points, second-most on the team.

In their first five games, the Mystics had made 76.1 percent of their free throws. But they shot only 17-for-29 from the line Thursday, missing three in the final eight minutes.

Despite having five players score in double figures, the Mystics’ poor performance at the line might have doomed them.

“We missed 12 free throws and lost by six,” Currie said. “So that’s a big difference maker.”

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