- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Washington Mystics entered their third meeting of the season against the Atlanta Dream with optimism.

Coming off a 10-point win over the New York Liberty on Saturday, head coach Trudi Lacey and many of the players were beginning to feel like those fourth-quarter collapses that have plagued them all season were finally behind them.

With just under a minute to play, the Mystics were up by six, and looked to have the game in hand. But a broken play resulted in a turnover, one of 18, and a shot by Atlanta forward Sancho Lyttle in the closing seconds saw the Mystic lose at the buzzer, 72-70.

“[It was] a really hard-fought game. I think we continue to improve, but again, just learning to play with a lead, clock management, [not] making plays down the stretch have hurt us,” Lacey said. “But our team just continues to fight and continues to get better and continues to learn how to play together and develop that killer instinct.”

The killer instinct is clearly present in guard Matee Ajavon, who turned in stellar performances in back-to-back games. Ajavon scored a career-high 32 points against the New York Liberty on Saturday, and led all scorers with 28 in Tuesday’s loss, but was disappointed with yet another close loss at the end.

“It’s the way we lose, especially down the stretch when we’re obviously in control of the game and suddenly lose our control,” Ajavon said. “It doesn’t matter if I perform well if we don’t have a win.

“We just have to figure out a way to stop turning the ball over and be smart about our possessions.”

After hitting two free throws to give the Mystics a five-point lead with 39 seconds remaining, it was Ajavan who had the ball stripped with 17 seconds left to allow the Dream to tie the game up at 70.

“We just have to tighten it up. It doesn’t necessarily boil down to the last basket; we have to take care of things in-between, before that last basket,” Ajavon said.

Marissa Coleman had a tough outing, scoring just six points on 2 of 8 shooting. She also had the the most difficult defensive assignment of the night, guarding Angel McCoughtry, a two-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year in 2009. McCoughtry shot 4-for-17 from the field, but made 10 of 11 free throws for 19 points.  

“It was definitely hard [guarding McCoughtry]. She’s good at getting to the free-throw line and getting fouls called, so it’s definitely a hard a hard matchup,” Coleman said. “I don’t think we slipped backwards [after the win over New York on Saturday]. “I think we had the game won for 39-and-a-half minutes, we just made some careless mistakes at the end.”

Crystal Langhorne was more succinct.

“This loss just [stunk]. It was just breakdowns at the end. That’s pretty much it,” Langhorne said. “We had the game, then we messed up. There’s no way we should have lost. I guess it will just give us greater hunger to win the next one.”

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