WNBA: Langhorne Helps Mystics Cast Spell Over Sun
By Mel Greenberg
WASHINGTON -- Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne of Willingboro, N.J., near Philadelphia, is creating the need for a new postseason award in the WNBA -- Most Improved Most Improved Player.
A year ago Langhorne, then a second-year pro, was honored for her development in helping to take the Washington Mystics into the playoffs.
This season, however, the 6-foot-2 forward-center is taking her game to a whole new level and as a result Washington is having one of its best runs in the Mystics' 13-year history, most of which has been a sorry affair.
Langhorne scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds Tuesday night as the Mystics averted a 48-hour sweep by the Connecticut Sun, emerging with an 84-74 win at the Verizon Center at the only place in the nation's capital not glued to the return to the mound of Nationals rookie pitching star Stephen Strasburg.
Washington (17-12) clinched at least a .500 record -- a rarity most seasons here -- and put the Sun (14-15) near needing life support for the postseason in the closing days of the playoff race in the rugged Eastern Conference.
It also gave Washington a bit of breathing space as to what the alternative result would have produced.
Connecticut is now in fifth place three games behind Washington with five to play, though the Sun did win the season series 3-2, which would come into play if both tied for fourth and the last playoff spot out of the East.
Washington and the Sun will both be home this weekend with the Mystics hosting Minnesota here Friday and Seattle Sunday. Connecticut will host Seattle and then Indiana on those same days.
"It will be nice to see someone different, we're so caught up with this East," Washington coach Julie Plank said of two games with the Western Conference-dominating Seattle Storm and the playoff hungry Minnesota Lynx.
Washington broke the game open in the third quarter, outscoring Connecticut 33-16.
Former Duke star Monique Currie added 17 points to the Washington total, while All-Star Katie Smith had 12 points, including two critical three-pointers, while Chasity Melvin helped fuel the third quarter and finished with 10 points.
"Our team played with urgency," Plank said. "It was a total team win. Everyone contributed.
"Chasity got us going in the third quarter with some offensive putbacks, we moved the ball better and (Marissa) Coleman hit some big shots," Plank said. "And Langhorne, steady, steady, that's how she's been all year."
The former member of the Philadelphia Belles AAU was pleased with her night.
"I got some really good opportunities, I got the ball in some good places and I was finally making shots," Langhorne said. "I was having a rough time so today was great for me.
"We're just trying to make a good run these last few games and make the playoffs and play well," Langhorne said.
Washington is still in a situation where the Mystics might do more than just make the playoffs. The second-place Atlanta Dream (18-12) blew a big early lead at home to Seattle (25-4) and lost to the Storm 80-70.
First-place Indiana (19-10) held its ground out West with the defend Eastern Conference Fever beating the Los Angeles Sparks 82-76 at the Staples Center.
Idle New York (17-11) moved into second place by percentage points ahead of Atlanta but both teams are 1.5 games out of first. Washington, though still fourth, is just two games out of first.
The one thing the Sun had to cheer was rookie Tina Charles, the No. 1 overall pick out of UConn, who scored a bunch of points late to finish with 15 points and 15 rebounds to tie the all time WNBA season record of double doubles with 19 set by former UCLA star Natalie Williams of the former Utah Starzz in Salt Lake City.
Former UConn star Renee Montgomery had 17 points, while Asjha Jones, another former UConn star, had 14 points, former Tennessee star Kara Lawson scored 11, and Sandrine Gruda came off the bench to score 10 points.
The Sun locker room was not in funeral mode, knowing the season is still alive, though the window to make the playoffs got much smaller with the loss here.
"There were times when we had a solid defense and they got an (offensive) board and put them right back in," Lawson said of the game. "Coleman did that a few times when we were right in her face and she made some tough shots.
"That was the game right there. You get that far down you don't have enough time to come back," she added and continued, "You never know what's going to happen.
"The teams in the league this year are too good. Our conference is too good. We just have to go out there Friday and get a win -- we do own the tie-break against them -- and see what happens."
Connecticut coach Mike Thibault had warned after his team's win Sunday that Washington was going to come at the Sun with its best shot.
"I don't think they played all that great until they went out and they had a great third quarter," Thibault said. "We weren't very good as a general rule. The third quarter they were just really good. A 33-point quarter is a killer.
"Langhorne had a terrific game -- she shot 67 percent so that's pretty good."
As for the playoff situation, he said, "We aren't in control of anything except our own selves so now we'll go and play Seattle Friday and try to get a win and see what happens from there."
Normally, the consolation for fans of teams that don't make the playoffs is the possibility through the draft lottery is landing a superstar from the collegiate ranks.
The Sun, who lost out on the postseason on a tie-breaker in 2009 was able to get into a situation to deal with the Minnesota Lynx, which enabled Connecticut to get the No. 1 pick and select Charles.
There normally would be similar excitment this time because of this winter being UConn sensation Maya Moore's final season.
However, the Sun, never imagining they would miss the playoffs again, made a draft day trade that yielded Connecticut's first round pick in 20i1 for former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin.
The two conference cellar-dwellers -- the Chicago Sky (13-17) in the East and Tulsa Shock (5-24) -- have just qualified for the Maya Moore Derby taking two of the four slots with Tulsa having the best overall shot.
If the Sun is sent back to the sidelines, tears will not last long in casino-land.
With attention in the state of Connecticut focused on the collegiate Huskies' attempt to extend their 78-game win streak, it should be noted point guards, shooters and post players report for enrollment and first days of classes in Storrs in less than a month.
Minnesota Shoots down Silver Stars
It was a big night on two counts for the visiting Lynx (11-17) in topping the host Silver Stars (11-18) in Texas.
On their own behalf Seimone Augus scored 20 points to give the Lynx the win 73-66 and jump into third place a half-game ahead of San Antonio, who got 19 points from Sophia Young.
But Connecticut being placed close to elimination by Washington enabled the Lynx to move closer to the Maya Moore Derby no matter what they do on their own behalf. If they don't make the playoffs, they will have two of four shots to land the pick that could be used to draft Moore.
Storm Rally over Dream
Trailing early, Seattle (25-4) rallied for an 80-70 win over the Dream (18-12) in the Peach Tree State as Lauren Jackson and Tanisha Wright each scored 14 points and move ahead to an 11-game lead over second-place Phoenix in the West.
The Storm clinched the No. 1 seed in the West late last month and Tuesday night also clinched the home court for the entire playoffs.
Angel McCoughtry scored 16 points for the Dream, who fell into a virtual second-place tie with New York but behinf the Liberty in percentage points.
Sky Subdues Mercury
After seeming to become one of the hottest teams in the home stretch of the regular season, defending WNBA champion Phoenix (14-15) has cooled again and on Tuesday night in the Windy suburbs were shaded by Chicago, 91-82.
Sylvia Fowles, the former LSU star, scored 24 points for Chicago (13-17), which is aeven games out of first and elimiated from the post season.
Former UConn star Diana Taurasi, the reigning MVP in the league, scored 28 for Phoenix, which dropped to 11 back of Seattle and 2.5 games behind Phoenix.
Fever Flash Past Sparks
Indiana stayed ahead in the bunched up East as former Rutgers star Tammy Sutton-Brown scored 18 points and former Purdue player Katie Douglas was next among four Fever players in double figures, scoring 17 points in an 82-76 win over Los Angeles. Tamika Catchings had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Tina Thompson had 21 points for the Sparks (10-19) who in the West shuffle fell into fith place 15 games behind Seattle and one behind San Antonio for the last playoff berth in the conference.
The Silver Stars have the tie-break on L.A. by winning the season series. The Sparks are 1.5 ganes behind Minnesota and four behind second-place Phoenix with five remaining.