- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Mystics have an early chance at redemption against the Connecticut Sun, the team that handed them their first loss of the season, 89-73 on June 4, when they face them again at Verizon Center on Thursday.

The good news is that they could get center Ta’Shia Phillips back. Phillips has been sidelined with a sprained tendon, but had her first practice on Wednesday. She is still listed as day-to-day, but could see limited action.

The bad news is that Alana Beard did not practice, and although she’s listed as day-to-day, it could be a while before we see “AB”, as she’s known to her teammates.

On Wednesday, coach Trudi Lacey put in a couple of new plays during a three-hour practice session.

“We tweaked some things, and put a couple of new things in,” Lacey said. But in order to beat the Sun this time out, Lacey stressed once again that it all starts with defense.

“First and foremost, we need to play defense. I’ve been preaching it, and they just need to shift their mindset and play defense for the entire game. We’ve been playing defense in spurts; we’ve got to do it for the whole game,” Lacey said.

The Sun, who have a 2-1 record, will create a couple of interesting matchup challenges for the Mystics.

“Renee Montgomery really gets them going, so that’s a key matchup as well as Lang [Crystal Langhorne] on Asjha Jones; she’s been playing extremely well for them, as well as keeping Tina Charles under control, if you can do that,” Lacey said.

“They’re a really good offensive team, so we really just have to play our game. We have to do a much better job of executing in the half court and eliminate some silly turnovers,” Lacey said.

Feeling a little more pressure without Beard, but not showing it, is the backcourt tandem of Kelly Miller and Matee Ajavon. Miller runs the point while Ajavon has stepped into Beard’s starting two-guard spot, and is relied upon to score quite a bit more than in the days when she was known at the sparkplug who came off the bench.

“We have to go with what we’ve got until we get [Alana] back,” Ajavon said.

“I’m comfortable wherever I’m put and whatever circumstance I’m in. My teammates have been doing a good job of getting me the ball, and I’ve been scoring, and I’m just trying to ride that horse right now.”

“Since day one, Coach Trudi has been stressing that we have to play defense. So far, we haven’t been successful in keeping teams under 65 points, so it has to start with our defense in the first half. We have to let it be known that we’re here to win this game and we’re here to play defense,” Ajavon said.

Point guard Kelly Miller said the team has improved since the opening loss to Connecticut.

“We’ve gotten better since that game in a lot of aspects,” Miller said.

“Our team defense has improved. We’ve had a few good days of practice. I think we’re looking forward to it. We know what we need to do to get the win. We just have to come out of the gate strong and go out there and play hard for 40 minutes,” Miller said.

Miller knows her job is a little bit harder without Beard in the lineup, but the team has adjusted.

“We miss AB immensely. But other people are just trying to step in and play hard in her absence,” Miller said.

“We’re just looking forward to getting her back.”

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

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