Physical Liberty handles Mystics

Outmuscled, outhustled, Washington suffers first home loss, 67-53

Pro Basketball

July 14, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - As the WNBA season hits the All-Star break, the book on beating the Washington Mystics, the surprise team in the league, is starting to be written, and the New York Liberty penned one of its first chapters yesterday in a 67-53 thumping of the Mystics.

The Liberty (11-9), fresh off a loss Thursday to the league's worst team, the Detroit Shock, pushed and shoved Washington all over MCI Center, handing the Mystics their first home loss of the year, before a crowd of 17,841.

For the first time all season, the Mystics (14-6), playing without All-Star forward Chamique Holdsclaw for the sixth straight game as she recovers from an ankle sprain, looked uncharacteristically rattled and harassed, and in front of a national television audience to boot.

"You want to sell your product. You want to come out and win over fans," said Washington coach Marianne Stanley. "We didn't play well. Actually, I wasn't surprised that we didn't play well. The last two practices were not of the quality that has brought us to this stage, and I don't know what other teams need, but we need to practice."

The Mystics, who had two practice days last week after playing three games in four days, were out-rebounded, 40-32, and generally outhustled by the Liberty, which set the tone early with five blocked shots in the first half.

"They play hard all the time. They execute their plays well," said Washington center Vicky Bullett. "They know who their scorers are and they get them in position where they can score. They took control of the game real early."

Indeed, the battle was effectively over by halftime, as New York scored the first seven points of the game, while the Mystics were missing their first nine shots. The Liberty stretched its lead to 15 by halftime and 18 early in the second half.

Washington twice got the deficit down to eight points in the second half, but the Liberty, which has reached the league championship series three times in five years, responded each time, closing the game on a 14-8 run, after Coco Miller hit a 12-footer with 6:40 to go to get the Mystics within 53-45.

"We knew they would come with everything they had," said Miller, who, with reserve guard Helen Luz, led Washington with 11 points. "We're undefeated at home and we're at the top of the East, and we knew they would come with a lot of intensity and energy. We just didn't match it."

With the WNBA All-Star Game at MCI Center tomorrow, the Mystics will have until Thursday's home contest against Detroit to come up with a chapter to counter what likely will be a recurring story against them in their final 12 games.

"There's no doubt that we can match other teams' intensity," said Mystics reserve forward Murriel Page. "But we came out at the beginning of the season, and we can make excuses that the first half of the season is catching up to us, but we have to come out each time we have a game and be aggressive, no matter what's going on, on or off the court. We have to be ready to play."

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