Royal entrance for Holdsclaw

Though Mystics lose, star quality on display

June 11, 1999|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- When is the result of a basketball game superfluous? When it comes in the middle of a coronation, that's when.

For the record, the Washington Mystics lost their WNBA season opener, 83-73, to the Charlotte Sting last night, the 28th loss in the franchise's 31 games, but it just didn't matter.

Chamique Holdsclaw had come to stake her claim as the basketball queen of the "most important city in the world," as the public address announcer describes it, and her subjects were all too happy to let her reign begin.

The too-numerous-to count, "We Love You, Chamique" signs and the thunderous applause for each of her 18 points suggested that Holdsclaw, widely considered by many to be the best female collegiate player ever, had the announced sellout crowd in the palm of her hands.

But, as is befitting royalty, Holdsclaw said she hardly noticed the fans' existence.

"I really didn't focus in on the crowd. I focused on the team. It was good to see them, but I'm used to playing in front of big crowds," said Holdsclaw.

Holdsclaw, one of only four women to be named to the prestigious Kodak All-America team all four years, has been in the spotlight since her days at Christ the King High School in New York and at Tennessee, where she led the Lady Vols to three national titles.

But the Mystics, their fans and the nascent WNBA have not seen a talent like hers, and the 6-foot-2 rookie carries a tremendous burden on her still- broadening shoulders.

"I just keep trying to tell Chamique to go out and have fun. I can't even begin to imagine the kind of pressure that she feels, but she handles it gracefully," said Mystics coach Nancy Darsch.

Indeed, Holdsclaw, in what she described as the first season-opening loss in her career, handled all the questions of a large media throng with grace and a little bit of cockiness.

"I know I can score. I really don't think anybody can guard me consistently off the dribble," said Holdsclaw, who hit 7-of-14 shots, including two three-pointers.

And though Sting forward Tracy Reid -- who hooked up with Holdsclaw two years ago in an epic NCAA tournament battle when Reid was at North Carolina -- rocked Holdsclaw a few times in the man-to-man, Holdsclaw gave as well as she got.

"She did good. It was her first game. She's still working out the kinks. She's very poised and very humble and she doesn't let the spotlight get to her," said Charlotte point guard Dawn Staley, who led all scorers with 23 points.

Indeed, Charlotte's late-game switch from a man-to-man to a zone and Staley's 15 second-half points and three three-pointers were the principal factors that kept the Mystics from winning their second straight home opener.

Washington stumbled out of the box to a 24-14 deficit with less than seven minutes to go in the first half, before Holdsclaw and guard Nikki McCray led a 22-10 run to give the Mystics a two-point halftime lead.

But Staley, a former Virginia standout, calmly led the Sting -- the consensus pick to win the Eastern Conference -- back, setting up Stephanie McCarty for consecutive three-pointers inside the four-minute mark to break the game open.

Still, the night belonged to Holdsclaw, who left the impression that she will be back to dominate many Mystics nights before her career is over.

"It all starts with Chamique," said Washington reserve guard Penny Moore.

"Chamique is our heart and soul. She's the most important player we have and the way she goes will help determine how we go."

Charlotte 34 49 -- 83

Washington 36 37 -- 73

CHARLOTTE -- Bullett 3-7 4-7 10, Reid 5-10 5-7 15, Mapp 2-8 1-2 5, Stinson 5-9 0-2 10, Staley 10-15 0-2 23, Manning 0-0 1-2 1, McCarty 3-5 3-3 11, Cha.Smith 3-5 1-3 8, Braziel 0-1 0-0 0, Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, Bauer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-61 15-28 83.

WASHINGTON -- Enis 5-13 0-1 11, Holdsclaw 7-14 2-2 18, Santos de Oliveira 0-1 0-0 0, McCray 9-21 3-4 22, Nagy 0-2 4-6 4, Williams 0-2 0-0 0, Page 6-8 2-2 14, Aldridge 1-1 2-2 4, Moore 0-1 0-0 0, Maxwell 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-64 13-17 73.

3-point goals--Charlotte 6-13 (Staley 3-5, McCarty 2-2, Cha.Smith 1-3, Bullett 0-1, Mapp 0-1, Johnson 0-1), Washington 4-18 (Holdsclaw 2-4, Enis 1-5, McCray 1-7, Williams 0-1, Maxwell 0-1). Fouled out--None. Rebounds--Charlotte 39 (Reid 8), Washington 44 (Page 9). Assists--Charlotte 20 (Staley 7), Washington 20 (Nagy 12). Total fouls--Charlotte 21, Washington 22. Technical--McCarty. A--20,674.

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