WASHINGTON -- If the Washington Mystics are going to make the playoffs, Sunday's performance could serve as an example of how to play down the stretch.
Crystal Langhorne scored 18 points and the Mystics held on for a 74-63 victory over the Connecticut Sun despite having a 21-point lead shrink to four late.
"We're just trying to survive in the playoff race," said Mystics coach Mike Thibault, who spent the past 10 seasons coaching the Sun before he was fired last November. "That's the only focus we have right now. That's all we talk to our players about."
Ivory Latta added 14 points, including a crucial late 3-pointer to help seal the victory for the Mystics (11-13), who won their second straight to keep hold of sole possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Monique Currie added 12 points and Michelle Snow grabbed 10 rebounds for Washington, which equaled its win total from the past two seasons combined. The Mystics last qualified for the postseason in 2010.
"Definitely a must-win for us," Latta said of Sunday's victory, which followed a 79-75 win at league-leading Minnesota on Thursday night. "We needed to get a win here, in front of our fans and for us."
Tina Charles scored 14 of her 18 points after halftime and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Kelsey Griffin added 17 for the last-place Sun (6-15), who lost their third straight and sixth in their past eight. It was Connecticut's second loss this season against the Mystics after winning the previous nine over Washington under Thibault's leadership.
Coach Anne Donovan said the team held a closed-door discussion following the defeat to get "feedback" about the team's struggles.
"It's hard for everybody," Donovan said. "I'm no different than anybody in that locker room. Nobody likes to lose."
Connecticut's past two losses have come partly from poor 3-point shooting. The Sun shot just 2 of 12 from beyond the arc Sunday and are 3 of 26 (11.5 percent) since Friday's home loss against Chicago.
"I thought we had great looks and people put themselves in position to shoot the shot that they practice," Charles said. "Sometimes we just weren't making it."
Washington went 7 of 13 from 3-point range on Sunday. Down 54-33, Connecticut used a 26-9 run to cut it to 63-59, capped when Griffin converted a tough three-point play. But Connecticut missed shots on its next three possessions, including an open 3-point attempt from Allison Hightower that could've cut the deficit to two.
"We got stops when we needed to," Langhorne said. "We have to find better ways to score sometimes and not turn it over, but we got stops at the end."
Then Latta and Matee Ajavon each hit a pair of foul shots, and after long offensive rebounds on 3-point misses from Latta and Currie, Latta hit a 3-pointer from the right baseline to stretch it to 71-63 with 44.5 seconds remaining. Latta chased down her own shot during the sequence.
"Coach has been emphasizing a lot on, get the loose ball," Latta said. "It fell in my hands, thank god."
The Mystics hit three of four foul shots down the stretch, including a pair from Currie. Washington led by 15 at halftime, helped by buzzer-beating 3-pointers to end the first and second quarters.
Nadira McKenith's 3-pointer from just inside half court made it 23-7 after one, and Tayler Hill hit another 3, one of two 3-pointers on passes from Latta in an 8-0 Mystics run to close the half up 38-23.
Washington stretched it to 45-25 early in the third on Currie's jumper and eventually to 54-33 on Kia Vaughn's jumper. The 23-7 first quarter was the Mystics' best defensive performance over a quarter this season and the Sun's second-lowest scoring quarter of the year.