- The Washington Times - Friday, September 4, 2009

It’s a safe bet that without All-Star Alana Beard, the Washington Mystics would have struggled mightily against an elite Western Conference foe earlier this season. But since the Mystics returned home from their lengthy road trip out west, they have banded together in an effort to realize their playoff hopes.

Monique Currie led five Mystics players in double figures with 17, and Washington avenged last week’s listless effort in Seattle with a 78-67 win against the Storm on Thursday night at Verizon Center.

“A.B. brings us a lot, and [coach Julie Plank] reminded us, but I think everybody knew they had to give a little bit more to make up for her absence,” Currie said. “We knew that we could win without Alana, so we just all made an effort to step up and bring a little bit more to the table.”

Plank has said all season that Washington’s depth is its best asset, and it came through for the second game in a row. The Mystics needed a united effort without Beard, their leading scorer, who is still nursing a sprained left ankle she suffered in Sunday’s win against Minnesota.

Starting in place of Beard, Matee Ajavon sparked the Mystics early, scoring nine of her 16 points while playing the entire first quarter. She was on the court for 36 minutes overall and spent most of the evening shadowing Seattle’s superstar point guard Sue Bird. Bird still was able to collect good numbers - 17 points and six assists - but at times she was visibly frustrated by Ajavon’s pestering defense.

By containing Bird by herself, Ajavon allowed the rest of the Mystics to focus on shutting out the Storm’s other contributors. With two-time MVP Lauren Jackson in Seattle rehabbing a back injury, Washington was able to stifle the rest of the Storm’s starting lineup to a 10-for-46 shooting night.

“I think we’re playing together,” Ajavon said. “Most of all, we want the Mystics to make the playoffs. It takes a different kind of focus, and I think everybody is tuned in right now.”

The Mystics (15-15) are playing better collectively than they have at any other point this season. It is the first time they have recorded back-to-back victories since beating Chicago and Sacramento on July 23 and 26.

It appears the sprint to the playoffs has given Washington a sense of urgency. The fourth quarter has been their pitfall all year, but the Mystics dominated the final 10 minutes Thursday, outscoring Seattle 23-14.

Joining Currie and Ajavon in double figures were rookie Marissa Coleman, who hit all three of her 3-pointers en route to 14 points; Crystal Langhorne, who continued her breakout season with 12 points and 11 rebounds; and Nakia Sanford, who had 10 points off the bench.

“I think we’re really jelling at the right time,” Currie said. “At the end of the day, everybody has to step up. It’s either you win or you go home. We want to keep playing. We don’t want our season to end at the end of the regular season, so everybody’s just doing what they can do to help us win.”

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