- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sitting on four straight losses and in last place in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Mystics are in desperate need of something to cheer about.

A Sunday showdown at Verizon Center will provide a golden opportunity to stop the bleeding and exact revenge. The Mystics will welcome the Tulsa Shock, the last-place team in the Western Conference whose lone win came against Washington last Saturday.

Ivory Latta - a 5-foot-6 guard averaging 16.3 points this season - leads Tulsa, whose 1-7 start is the franchise’s worst since beginning the 2002 season 0-13. Latta torched the Mystics (1-5) in Saturday’s 77-59 win for a game-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting and just two turnovers in 36 minutes.

Latta hurt us a lot; we have to stop her,” Washington guard Matee Ajavon said. “But they just bring an all-around team effort. With Tulsa, it’s not just one person.”

Indeed, Latta was not the only one exploiting a lackluster Washington defense last weekend. Five Tulsa players scored in double figures, including 11-year veteran guard Sheryl Swoopes, who chipped in 13 on a sore knee. The Shock buried 9 of 15 3-point attempts en route to 47 percent shooting, besting Washington’s 34 percent shooting effort that featured a 5-for-15 mark from downtown. The shooting discrepancy highlighted a discouraging trend for Washington this season: The Mystics’ average field goal percentage sits at 40 percent compared to opponents’ 50 percent average, while they average just 31 percent from 3-point land compared to opponents’ 46 percent mark.

Washington coach Trudi Lacey attributed those struggles to poor shot selection.

“We’re getting shots, but it’s the type of shots that we’re taking,” Lacey said. “A bad shot is almost like a turnover because you’re not able to play transition defense. It’s two parts: We have to take better shots within our offense so that we can get our defense set.”

Washington also must kick its habit of relinquishing early leads. The Mystics led Tulsa 32-26 at halftime before being outscored 51-27 in the second half, including 22-9 in the fourth quarter. Against Indiana on Tuesday, Washington closed out the first quarter with a 24-13 lead and proceeded to surrender a decisive 38-15 Indiana run.

Such inconsistent performances might connect to a relatively inexperienced roster that includes four rookies. Those first-year players comprise the bulk of a bench that had totaled just 53 points before the Indiana game, in which the Fever bench outscored the Mystics’ reserves 52-18. Former Duke star Karima Christmas has been a bright spot on the Washington sideline; she tallied 11 points against Tulsa and followed that with a season-high 13 points in 27 minutes against Indiana.

With the continued absences of Alana Beard (foot) and Monique Curry (ACL), Christmas and fellow rookies Ta’Shia Phillips and Jasmine Thomas will continue to be called upon Sunday against the Shock. Forward Crystal Langhorne, who leads the team with 17.3 points per game, will look to continue spearheading the scoring effort, while starting center Nicky Anosike, who totaled just 11 points in her past two outings, will need to contribute more on the offensive end.

While the team’s record hardly inspires confidence, the season remains too young for anyone to panic just yet.

“I think it happens with every team — you kind of get in a rut,” 10-year veteran guard Kelly Miller said. “It’s not like we’re not playing hard, we’re just not doing the little things it takes to win games. A lot of people are new, and it takes a little bit of time to mesh but I think we’ll be OK. We have a lot of heart on this team, a lot of fight so I think we’ll be OK.”

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