- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2012

Monique Currie issued a challenge before the Washington Mystics faced the New York Liberty on Sunday at Verizon Center.

“We’re not going to give anybody a free pass into the playoffs,” Currie said. “New York will have to work when they come in here on Sunday. We’re going to make it as difficult as possible for them to get where they want to go.”

Currie was right — the Mystics did not make it easy on the Liberty. But easy or not, the Liberty did manage to pull out the win, 75-68. The loss was the Mystics’ 11th straight and drops them to 5-27, which virtually guarantees they will finish the season with the league’s worst record.

“They made tough shots, they made big shots and we didn’t execute,” Currie said. “We made mistakes again in bunches and we had to pay for it. We played very tough throughout the game, well enough to beat New York, but all the shoulda coulda woulda’s — they don’t give you any wins.”

Currie was right — the Mystics did control much of the game, but lost it once again in the fourth quarter. While the win over Washington does not guarantee New York the final playoff spot, it certainly helps its chances. Ironically, the Mystics could find themselves trying to play spoiler once again — their final game of the season is against the Chicago Sky, who are in a fight with the Liberty for that last spot.

It was a tall order to begin with to try and defeat the Liberty with Crystal Langhorne out of the lineup. Langhorne, the team’s leading scorer, suffered a strained left foot in Friday’s loss to the Atlanta Dream. The team was also without Noelle Quinn, who missed her second straight game with a right shoulder strain.

The injuries provided an opportunity for more playing time for rookie Natalie Novosel, reserve forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hilton and Iziane Castro-Marquez, who joined the Mystics after the Olympic break.

Unlike their last two games, when they came out on fire in the first quarter, the Mystics got off to a slow start on Sunday, connecting on just 5 of 14 from the floor. They took the lead for the first time in the second quarter, and were down by just two points at halftime, 35-33.

Washington managed to hold onto a slim lead for much of the third quarter before once again falling behind in the fourth and continuing its usual pattern — an inability to close out games in the end.

“Our execution down the stretch is just not where it needs to be to finish games,” Mystics coach Trudi Lacey said. “Overall, I was pleased with our defensive effort, but I tell them all the time the little things become the big things.”

Some of those little things would include a lack of ball movement, which stagnates the offense, and playing too much one-on-one ball. It’s not a problem early in games for Washington, but has been its downfall in the fourth quarter.

Jasmine Thomas (16), Currie (12), Ashley Robinson (10), and Wisdom-Hylton (11) all scored in double figures, and out-shot the Liberty 43.5 percent to 38.9. But there wasn’t much anyone could do to stop Cappie Pondexter.

Pondexter, a four-time All-Star, the 2007 Final Most Valuable Player and a 2008 Olympic gold medalist, led all scorers with 30 on 9 of 17 from the floor. Nicole Powell added 18 and Essence Carson had 15.

The Mystics have two games remaining in this dismal and disappointing season — Sept. 21 at home against Indiana and Sept. 22 on the road in Chicago.

Despite the struggles and frustrations of another losing season, every player on the roster echoes the same sentiment — they plan to play as hard as they can and be as competitive as they can in their final two games.

“The struggle is not winning,” Robinson said. “Everything that you do wrong is amplified when you’re losing. It’s just really frustrating when every game ends the same. We’re competitive, we want to win games, but it’s been a struggle. I guess at this point we’re playing for pride. “

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