WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - The revitalized Washington Mystics came into last night's game with the three-time defending Women's National Basketball Association champion Houston Comets hoping to make a statement that they belong with the league's elite.
A statement was clearly made, but more by the Comets, who thwarted the Mystics with a punishing defensive attack on the way to an 81-54 victory before 15,040 at MCI Center.
The Comets (5-1) gambled consistently on defense, forcing 21 Washington turnovers (14 off steals alone), which they converted into 24 points.
"You have to give it to them. They came in and played like true champions," said Mystics guard Nikki McCray, who shot 2-for-10 from the field on the way to a season-low five points, 16 off her season average. Chamique Holdsclaw led the Mystics with 16 points, but on 7-for-17 shooting.
On the other end, Houston, playing here after winning a tough decision the night before at home to Sacramento, appeared tired at times, with forward Sheryl Swoopes visibly shaking on the bench during a second-half timeout.
"We could have picked them apart," McCray said. "They were overplaying and that left us open, but we weren't hitting shots. We were putting up a lot of prayer shots, and you can't win on those."
But the Comets weren't so weary that they didn't blister Washington with torrid shooting, hitting 59 percent of their shots, while the Mystics (2-2) shot a season-low 39 percent from the floor, and a dismal 4-for-17 from three-point range.
Swoopes and guard Cynthia Cooper scored 20 points each, while forward Tina Thompson, the other member of the Big Three that has been around for all three title runs, had 17.
Cooper blew the game open single-handedly by scoring nine straight points in the first half. She strolled down the lane for back-to-back layups, converted a steal into a fast-break layup and hit a three-pointer in a 16-2 half-ending run that put the Comets up 39-24. The Mystics didn't get close again.
"We were tired," said Houston coach Van Chancellor. "I subbed in and out more than. I normally do. Playing those back-to-backs really sucks it out of you. But we have a day off [today], and I'm going to lay around in Washington and go see my man, the president, and see if he'll let me hang around with him again."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.