- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2011

With less than a minute remaining in the game, the Washington Mystics led the New York Liberty by one point. After so many close losses at the buzzer this season, it was beginning to feel like déjà vu all over again.

The Mystics did not make it easy on themselves. Point guard Kelly Miller missed two free throws that would have put the Mystics up by three. After a timeout, the Liberty’s inbound pass in the closing seconds of the game landed just underneath the basket, in a prime spot for a game-winning layup.

But the Mystics defense swarmed around Liberty forward Plenette Pierson, who put up a desperation shot as the clock ticked down. It missed. As the buzzer sounded, it was Mystics 64, Liberty 63. The crowd of just over 10,000 somehow managed to scream with excitement, and let out a collective sigh of relief at the same time.

“It was a hard-fought game for us,” said Mystics coach Trudi Lacey. “We had to overcome a lot of obstacles. In the first half, we did not defend the 3 well. We gave up six 3’s — 18 points in the first half. But like I’ve said about this team all season, they are a resilient group. They’ve got a lot of fight in them,” Lacey said.

During the final timeout of the game, just seconds after Miller’s two missed three throws, Lacey had just three words for her team.

“‘Get a stop,’ I told them. It’s the same thing that I’ve said to them many times before, they just actually did it this time. It was a total team effort. Everybody made a contribution,” Lacey said.

Crystal Langhorne led the way with 18 points, and Matee Ajavon scored 13. DeMya Walker added 10 points off the bench, and Nicky Anosike had a stellar defensive performance, pulling down 11 rebounds.

“We finally found a combination that could get some defensive stops and execute offensively. We’ve lost several close games this season, but it was nice to see our team execute and get a stop at the end and get a win,” Lacey said.

Lacey sticks with her starting lineup for much of the game, with Walker and Jasmine Thomas playing solid minutes off the bench in key spots. Walker is a strong defensive presence in the post, and the lightning-fast Thomas runs the floor well in the back up point guard spot.

“We have improved defensively. Our defense throughout the course of a game has been more consistent,” Lacey said. “We have fewer mental lapses defensively. Our defense has sustained us. Our defense has kept us in every single game.”

Defense is clearly Lacey’s mantra, with much of that defensive strength coming from Anosike, who ranks fifth in the league in rebounds with an average of 8.3 per game.

“That’s the main reason I’m here, first and foremost, to play defense and rebound,” Anosike said. “Every game, I know I need to bring that no matter what else happens. That’s the mindset I go into every game with.”

Anosike described the win as a much-needed confidence booster.

“It [the win] feels great, just another close one, knowing that we let another close one against Atlanta slip away,” Anosike said. “This is good for our confidence, especially in close games. It will help us to know that we can pull it out; that we know how to do it.”

But the Mystics don’t have long to enjoy this win, with a back-to-back scheduled against the Connecticut Sun on Saturday night on the road.

“Back-to-backs are always tough, especially going to Connecticut where they have a great crowd, and great fans, so it going to be huge,” Anosike said. “We’ve been waiting all season to get two in a row, so this is a great way to go into this game.”

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