- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hosting an undefeated Minnesota squad that returned all five starters from its 2011 WNBA championship season, Washington (1-2) stared at an uphill battle when the two teams tipped off at Verizon Center on Wednesday night.

Matee Ajavon stared right back.

In Washington’s last-second 79-77 loss, the Mystics’ reserve guard had a career-high seven steals and 20 points to help her team climb out of a 24-point first-half deficit.

“Matee came to the gym ready to play. I saw it before the game even started. It was in her eyes, it was in her face,” said forward Michelle Snow. “She wants to win, and she’s hungry for it. And she showed that every possession.”

In the game’s opening minutes, the Lynx (5-0) proved why they were reigning champions. Meanwhile, the Mystics didn’t do much of anything to ward off the expected outcome.

Minnesota, which ended the first half with 12 fast-break points, repeatedly beat the Mystics in transition before halftime, scoring easy basket after easy basket.

But it seemed like a little halftime pep talk was all Washington needed to get its fire going. The Mystics outrebounded Minnesota in the second half, were quicker on defense and held the Lynx to 27 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.

To Mystics coach Trudi Lacey, the solution was simple.

“We were executing. People were doing their jobs,” Lacey said. “I’ve been preaching that over and over and over again. Once we started to do that, that builds confidence. I tell them all the time, predictability yields confidence.”

After halftime, Ajavon’s relentless defense seemed to be the source of that assurance. After the Mystics cut Minnesota’s lead to 10, Ajavon swatted at the ball as Maya Moore cradled it, tumbling to the ground to recover the steal as the third-quarter clock expired.

Turnovers plagued Washington in its first two games of the season, but this time around, Ajavon — who scored eight of her 20 points in the fourth quarter — was often on the receiving end of a Minnesota fumble.

With 3:24 to go, Snow scored her 3,000th WNBA point to give the Mystics their first lead, 73-72. But offensive rebounding and precision at the stripe in the waning seconds allowed Minnesota to narrowly seal the deal.

The would-be comeback could have been used as a confidence boost. But to Ajavon, it was simply a nagging reminder of what should have been happening all along.

“It shows us that we can do the little things to not get us in that situation where we have to come back,” Ajavon said. “If we just do what we have to do initially, we won’t be in those situations.”

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