WNBA

Mystics-Sun Preview

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With four rookies and four new starters, Washington Mystics first-year coach and general manager Trudi Lacey knows it's going to take some time for her team to jell.

Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault hopes a distinct University of Connecticut flair on his roster speeds up that process.

These Eastern Conference rivals open their seasons Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.

After spending a year as the Mystics' assistant coach and last season as the director of basketball operations, Lacey replaced general manager Angela Taylor and coach Julie Plank, who led Washington to a franchise-best 22-12 record in 2010.

Despite earning the top playoff seed for the first time, the Mystics were swept by Atlanta, extending their playoff losing streak to eight since a 67-59 victory over Connecticut on Sept. 25, 2004.

If Washington is going to make a third straight playoff appearance, it will be with a lineup that has just one returning starter - All-Star forward Crystal Langhorne, who averaged team-bests with 16.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in 2010.

With Katie Smith, Nakia Sanford and Lindsey Harding gone, and Monique Currie sidelined after suffering an ACL injury this offseason, Lacey will likely round out her starting lineup with center Nicky Anosike (acquired from Minnesota), third-year forward Marissa Coleman, and Kelly Miller (acquired from Atlanta) in the backcourt with four-time All-Star Alana Beard, who returns after missing last season with a torn tendon in her left ankle.

The Mystics will also have to find roles for rookies Karima Christmas, Victoria Dunlap, Ta'Shia Phillips and Jasmine Thomas.

"We're very young - it's a work in progress," Lacey said. "We're working extremely hard getting to know each other, learning to play together. But I will say they've been a very focused group, very coachable group, a very likable group."

Thibault feels the same way about his inexperienced squad, which has four former UConn players after second-year guard Kalana Greene was acquired from New York on draft day. Greene played collegiately with Renee Montgomery and 2010 rookie of the year Tina Charles.

Veteran Asjha Jones is also a former Huskie.

"The best players from the best programs are used to fighting through and playing at the highest level, and I just think that carries over to your whole team," Thibault said.

In order to rebound from a 17-17 record and make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the Sun will likely need another big year from Charles, who set league records with 22 double-doubles and 398 rebounds en route to second-team All-WNBA honors.

Charles, though, won't have Sandrine Gruda lined up next to her after the 6-foot-4 French center decided to stay in Europe.

Danielle McCray could provide a nice boost in the Sun's frontcourt as she makes her WNBA debut Saturday after sitting out 2010 with an ACL injury suffered during her final season at Kansas.

"I'm ready for this," she said. "The whole time I was rehabbing I was watching what they need and talking to coach about what I can do and what he wants me to do for this team."

The home team has won the last seven meetings in this series.

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