- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mystics forward Crystal Langhorne missed the first game of her three-year career, and the Mystics sorely missed her presence as they fell to the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm 73-63 on Sunday at Verizon Center.

Rookie Victoria Dunlap got the start in place of Langhorne and played 33 minutes, leading the Mystics with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting and pulling down eight rebounds.

“We played with a short roster, but I thought that our team just really fought from the start,” said Mystics coach Trudi Lacey. “Again, it’s a learning process for us. We have been coming out of the starting gate better, but the second quarter really hurt us. We really didn’t do a good job of reading their defense, and had some random plays offensively that put us in the hole.”

The Mystics scored only nine points in the second quarter, tying their lowest point total for a single quarter this season. The team previously scored nine points in the fourth quarter on the road against the Tulsa Shock on June 18.

The Mystics shot only 31.1 percent from the floor, compared to the Storm’s 47.7 percent, but did outrebound the Storm 35-33, and beat them in the turnover battle, with 14 to Seattle’s 17.

Despite the loss, Lacey took a few positives away from the game, especially Dunlap’s performance in the starting role replacing Langhorne.

“Victoria really came into her own today, so that was good to see,” Lacey said. “We did enough defensively to win the game, but offensively, we were just a little out of sync.”

The Mystics did not manage to score 20 points in any quarter, getting a high of 19 in the fourth while narrowly avoiding tying their lowest point total of the season, 59, also in the June 18 Tulsa game.

Guard Matee Ajavon scored 15 points and had four assists, center Nicky Anosike had 11 points and 10 rebounds, and forward Marissa Coleman had 10 points and six rebounds. The only starter not in double figures was Kelly Miller with seven points, but all of the starters struggled from the floor with the exception of Dunlap.

“I thought I played pretty well with the start, especially under the circumstances,” Dunlap said. “We don’t want any [more] injuries on our team, but I think it was a good step for me to step up as a person and as a player to help out the team the best that I can.

“It feels great when the coach shows confidence in you. Not many rookies get to start and play as many minutes as I did, so I’m definitely grateful for that. I just hope I can continue to help the team any way I can.”

Although the team missed Langhorne, who is the Mystics’ leading scorer at 18.1 points per game, Anosike said Dunlap stepped up well in Langhorne’s absence.

“I don’t know how to say how much we needed [Langhorne]. So much of our offense runs through her, so [her being out] was definitely tough, but I think that Vicky stepped in and did a great job and really held down the 4-position on the court today,” Anosike said. “I think a lot of times when you’re a rookie, you’re not on the [other] team’s scouting report. Unless you’re one of the top picks, they don’t really pay attention to you and that’s when you really burn them. [Dunlap] took advantage of the fact that they didn’t respect her from the time that the ball went up.”

The loss drops the Mystics to 2-6, and they now head out for a five-game road trip. They will play the Chicago Sky on Tuesday and the Indiana Fever on Friday before heading west to face Seattle, Phoenix and the L.A. Sparks before returning home.

“Right now, there’s no room to feel discouraged. We have been through so much already in just a month with so many injuries and all the losing,” Anosike said. “Now we get to go on the road and kind of gain back some of the momentum that we lost. I think that this is a great opportunity to steal a few on the road and get back to where we need to be.”

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

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