- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Washington Mystics still are awaiting the return of All-Star guard Alana Beard, who expects to be back in about two weeks.

After their fourth consecutive loss, the Mystics’ first home win of the season also will have to wait.

The Indiana Fever used 52 bench points and four double-digit performances to outlast the Mystics 89-80 on Tuesday night. Crystal Langhorne led all players with 23 points and nine rebounds in the defeat. Indiana’s Shavonte Zellous and Jessica Davenport notched 21 and 18 points, respectively.

Zellous came out of nowhere, playing more minutes than she had all season and converting 7 of 9 field goal attempts. After entering the game with just seven points in the Fever’s first six games, she exploded at Verizon Center.

For the Mystics and coach Trudi Lacey, it was another step in the right direction but not enough to win.

“Tough game for us, but I thought that our execution at times was very good,” Lacey said. “The rookies are getting better and learning to play at this level, so that certainly was a positive … [but] we had some defensive breakdowns, gave them some wide-open looks and some easy baskets.”

Most of those defensive lapses came in the fourth quarter, a worrisome trend that is quickly becoming the norm. The Mystics, who led 24-13 after the first quarter, allowed the Fever to go up 42-39 at halftime. Indiana’s lead grew to as big as 14 in the second half.

“I think it’s something that we still have to get over,” guard Ajavon Matee said of the defense. “We aren’t able to get stops when we really need them, and that’s when it really counts. When it gets tough, we just have to stick together and get it done.”

Matee was one bright spot for Washington, finishing with 17 points and a pair of steals. Another was the young tandem of Karima Christmas and Jasmine Thomas, who combined for 19 points, seven rebounds and just one turnover off the bench.

“They’re playing great and we need them, we need our bench,” Langhorne said. “They’re going to continue to grow — they’re rookies … it’s going to be a lot of learning for them.”

The Mystics got off to a quick start but couldn’t sustain their momentum. Scrappy Fever point guard Briann January opened up large gashes in Washington’s defense, igniting a 14-0 run that carried Indiana to a 31-27 lead with 4:24 left in the half.

“We didn’t come out with the same intensity that we came out with in the first quarter, and that’s what we need to do on a consistent basis every night,” Christmas said. “Our defense needs to come first — we need to get those key stops.”

Veteran Tamika Catchings knocked down 15 points for the Fever as they pulled away down the stretch. Langhorne and Thomas fought to keep it close, but a January 3-pointer with 1:04 left in the game proved to be the dagger. The Mystics fell to 1-5.

“I think it’s a combination of our team being young and our team having not played together for a very long time,” Lacey said of her team’s slow start. “But overall, we are improving and we know that it’s a process, especially because we have such a young team. We’re on the right path, we just need to continue to work and get better.”

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