Matee Ajavon, Crystal Langhorne lift Mystics past Liberty

NEWARK, N.J. -- After a sloppy third quarter for both teams, the Washington Mystics pulled away from the New York Liberty and got a big win.

Matee Ajavon scored 16 points, Crystal Langhorne had 14 and the Mystics beat the Liberty 66-57 on Friday night. Washington, which had lost the teams' first two meetings, increased its lead over fifth-place New York to 1 1/2 games in the Eastern Conference.

"Every game is so important right now," Langhorne said. "I felt like last time we weren't happy how we played against them, letting a big lead go. When we got a lead today we just wanted to keep pushing it at them."

Rookie Tierra Ruffin-Pratt had 10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter and Ivory Latta added 11 points as the Mystics (12-13) won their third straight, matching their season-best streak from June 7-16.

"If we continue to play like this we'll definitely be a tough team to beat," Latta said. "We did the important things down in the end to get the job done. We played great defense on Cappie (Pondexter), we tried to control everybody else. We just need to continue to play like this from now."

Katie Smith scored 14 points and Pondexter had 10 for New York (10-14). The Liberty, who had won the teams' first two meetings, have alternated wins and losses their last eight games overall after a stretch in which they lost eight of 10.

"We just had a lot of breakdowns, defensive-wise," Pondexter said. "They made plays and they made shots. When a team is rolling like that, it's kind of hard to stop them."

Pondexter, slowed by a foot injury that has limited her game, shot 4 for 13 from the field with five turnovers. Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer wasn't sure before the game whether the All-Star guard was going to play. She did and played nearly 33 minutes.

"Just a nagging injury," she said. "Takes away a lot of part of my game, just being explosive, getting to the rim, jumping. ... It's something I'm aggravated with but still gotta play through it no matter what."

The Mystics opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run to stretch their lead to 52-44 on Ruffin-Pratt's jumper with 8:20 remaining. Pondexter's two free throws 21 seconds later pulled the Liberty within six.

However, Ruffin-Pratt hit another long jumper with 6:47 left, Langhorne also made a jumper, and Ruffin-Pratt another to push the lead to 58-46 with 4 1/2 minutes to go. New York got no closer than eight the rest of the way.

"She played great," Langhorne said of Ruffin-Pratt. "She hit open shots for us and that's what we needed her to do tonight."

Both teams struggled for the bulk of the third quarter. Kamiko Williams opened the period with a layup to stretch the Liberty's lead to 36-33, and New York went nearly 7 minutes without scoring while shooting 0 for 8 from the field and 0 for 2 from the line to go along with five turnovers.

"It was ugly to watch I'm sure," Langhorne said. "Neither of us could score, but we kept telling ourselves when we go on our run we'll be OK."

Monique Currie tied the score with a 3 with 7:53 to go, and neither team scored until Latta's 3 nearly 4 minutes later put the Mystics ahead. Before the tiebreaker, Washington was 1 for 6 from the field and 0 for 2 from the line with six turnovers in the period.

DeLisha Milton-Jones, making her Liberty debut, hit a jumper to end New York's scoring drought with 2:54 remaining. The teams traded baskets the rest of the period as Washington took a 45-44 lead to the fourth quarter.

Trailing by eight after one, the Liberty held the Mystics scoreless for the first 5:25 of the second while using a 14-0 run to take a 26-20 lead. Smith scored six points during the run, which was capped by Pondexter's jumper with 5:13 remaining.

Latta's jumper ended Washington's drought and started the Mystics' 7-0 run that put them ahead on her 3-pointer with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the first half.

New York regained the lead 22 seconds later on Plenette Pierson's reverse layup and stretched the advantage to 32-27 on Pondexter's layup with 1:52 remaining in the period. Washington scored six of the final eight points of the second quarter to pull to 34-33 at the break on Langhorne's jumper with 24.5 seconds to go.