- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2011

Matee Ajavon sat in front of her locker, trying to keep her head up. Ajavon had played two outstanding games in a row but the second one proved to be another agonizing fourth-quarter loss.

Against the New York Liberty on Saturday, Ajavon scored 32 points and reached 1,000 for her career in the Washington Mystics’ 91-81 win. But Tuesday night, against the Atlanta Dream, the Mystics fell 72-70 in the closing seconds despite Ajavon’s game-high 28 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter.

“She gave us some big baskets and her getting going really gave us that lead,” said Crystal Langhorne.

But the loss to Atlanta took the joy out of another stellar individual performance, one of many for Ajavon this season.

“It doesn’t matter to me if I play well and we lose,” Ajavon said Tuesday night.

The Mystics are 4-15 after winning the Eastern Conference last season at 22-12. They have been without injured starters Alana Beard and Monique Currie all season, and coach Trudi Lacey has said Beard’s season is over . But if there is a bright spot, it has to be the breakout play of Ajavon.

The 5-foot-8 shooting guard out of Rutgers is in her fourth season and averaging 16.3 points, ninth-best in the WNBA. Ajavon has provided a spark off the bench in previous seasons, but as a starter this year, she’s raised her game to a new level.

“When I wasn’t really playing, I was learning, so now that I have the opportunity to play, I’m just making the most of it,” Ajavon said.

After her career scoring milestone, Ajavon said “I feel it is a great accomplishment. I still have a ways to go.”

Lacey has Ajavon playing more than 30 minutes per game and relies on her energy, her experience, and her leadership on the floor.

“Matee is playing very well right now,” Lacey said.

The improvement in Ajavon’s game is drawing notice in WNBA circles, and she’s a strong candidate for Most Improved Player. It’s an honor the Mystics know well - former guard Coco Miller won it in 2002, and Langhorne won it in 2009.

Former point guard Lindsey Harding, who was traded to Atlanta this past offseason, praised her former teammate Tuesday night.

“She’s just never had her opportunity. She’s worked really hard and she’s been very patient, and it says a lot about her for waiting for her turn and waiting for her time,” Harding said of Ajavon.

“She gets my vote for it [WNBA Most improved Player] because she’s worked extremely hard and she deserves it.”

• Carla Peay can be reached at cpeay@washingtontimes.com.

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