Guru's WNBA Report:Taylor and Taurasi Propel Phoenix Over New York
By Mel Greenberg
NEWARK, N.J. – Penny Taylor showered the Prudential Center with 29 points and Diana Taurasi offered her two cents worth with a pair of successfully made critical shots in the final minute Saturday night to give the Phoenix Mercury a 91-84 victory over the New York Liberty in one of three games on the WNBA schedule.
Taurasi finished with 16 points while former Temple star Candice Dupree scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds as the Mercury (11-7) snapped a three-game losing streak to hold third place in the Western Conference two-games behind idle Minnesota (12-4) and one behind the San Antonio Silver Stars (11-5).
Phoenix also stayed a game ahead of the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm (10-8), who were also on the road and beat lowly Tulsa 89-72.
The Shock (1-17) lost their 12th straight to slip to 12 games out of first and nine behind the Storm who are holding what would be the final playoff spot in the West.
Seattle is 2.5 games ahead of Los Angeles (7-10), which closed the distance slightly to 5.5 games behind first place with a rare road win beating the Chicago Sky 88-84 to move to 3-8 away from the Staples Center.
The Sparks, now 3-8 on the road, snapped a four-game losing streak to move to 3-4 under interim coach Joe Bryant, who was promoted for his second tour of duty at the helm several weeks ago after Jennifer Gillom was fired.
New York (10-8) stayed in third despite the loss but fell to 2.5 games behind the idle Eastern front-running Indiana Fever (13-6), one behind Connecticut (10-6) and slipped to just 1.5 ahead of the idle Atlanta Dream (8-9), the defending Eastern playoff champions.
Chicago (9-11), with the loss to the Sparks, fell to fifth place 0.5 games behind fourth-place Atlanta and 4.5 ahead of the idle Washington Mystics (3-14).
The Liberty had a bunch of nagging injuries – All-Star Cappie Pondexter missed the shootaround because of an Achilles problem, Plenette Pierson had a blister on her hand, newcomer and rookie Ta’Shia Phillips from Xavier has a foot problem, and Sydney Spencer missed her second straight game because of back problems.
New York had rallied from a nine-point deficit in the game that featured 14 ties and 10 lead changes to move to within a basket at 84-82 on a trey from Pondexter, who scored 13 points.
Then in the last minute, Taurasi, the former UConn star, hit a driving layup after an offensive foul by Essence Carson, who had 12 points off the Liberty bench.
“We can’t do that against good teams and expect a win,” New York first-year coach-general manager John Whisenant said.
Pondexter, who like Carson and Liberty center Kia Vaughn are Rutgers alums, missed a shot and former UConn player Katia Swanier grabbed the rebound and fed Taurasi for a long three-pointer and an 89-82 lead with 25.6 seconds left.
Taurasi then stole the ball from Carson and Pondexter fouled Swanier, who made two foul shots. Pierson, who had 15 points, then scored just before the game ended.
“Tonight we did a little better job of executing (in the closing minutes), getting some loose balls, but they made some huge plays too, but it was an evenly battled game,” Taurasi said.
She spoke of ending the second three-game slide of the season joining the one that occurred in Phoenix’s start last month.
“You don’t want to let those things happen but you have to find ways to nip it in the bud,” Taurasi said.
“We played really goods defense today and I think that’s what got us over the hump.”
Taurasi also spoke of the play of Taylor.
“This organization, this team knows how important she is every night,” Taurasi said of the Australian the Mercury picked up several years ago in the expansion draft off the former Cleveland Rockers roster.
“She’s one of the best players in the world and she’s proven that every season since she’s been in the WNBA. “Her resume is as good as anyone’s out there.”
New York thrived getting second chance points outscoring Phoenix 21-10 in the category.
Nicole Powell, a former Stanford star, had a team-high 16 points for New York and also set a career mark with six steals that contributed to the Mercury’s 20 turnovers.
The Liberty got 30 points off of the Mercury’s errors.
“It’s one of those things where we’ll get it fixed,” Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said.
Vaughn had 11 points and 10 rebounds for New York, which got into foul trouble.
“They executed their game plan, they lost three straight, they came in and they were hungry to get a win,” Pondexter said of what Phoenix, her former team, was able to do against the one she got dealt to a year ago.
“We had a couple of letdowns and they got the hot hand at the end, made a couple of key buckets and got the win.”
Phoenix is at Minnesota on Tuesday for what should be another high-scoring duel, while New York will be visiting Atlanta the same day.
Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, who had an all-American career at Old Dominion, was at the game near her native New York to do a book signing.
Seattle Routs Shock
Following one of her worst performances on Friday night when Seattle got overrun at Minneapolis, former UConn great Sue Bird had one of her best, scoring 29 points, while another ex-Huskies all-American Swin Cash scored 23. Former Penn State star Tanisha Wright had 11 points.
Tulsa’s Tiffany Jackson scored 16 points, former North Carolina star Ivory Latta scored 13, and rookie Elizabeth Cambage, the second overall pick in the draft out of Australia, had 11 points.
"For me to be able to help my team I have to be aggressive, and if that means when I'm open to take the shots, that's what I have to do," Bird said. "By being aggressive, getting some shots to fall in the first half, I was able to be aggressive and find my teammates. They did an awesome job of knocking down shots."
Bird jokingly referred to herself as the quarterback with her teammates serving as her offensive line in setting screens.
"We did a good job of screening for her and she did a good job of using screens," Seattle coach Brian Agler said. "People think of Sue as a quarterback point guard where she distributes the ball to everyone else. She is that, but she's also more and you saw the more today. She's the best in the world. The people in Tulsa had a chance to see that firsthand. She was not going to let us lose tonight."
Bird talked about turning things around after the loss at Minnesota.
"We're really glad to get the win. Any road win, especially against a Western Conference team is big, but coming off the loss (Friday) was important for us to go 2-1 on this road trip," Bird said. "(Friday) was one of those games, and I don't want to take anything away from Minnesota, but it was one of those games that we were a little out of sorts."
Sparks Stop Sky
Chicago rallied from a 20-point deficit to within two points of Los Angeles before DeLisha Milton-Jones hit two foul shots to halt the rally asnd finish with 19 points.
Tina Thompson added 14 points, rookie Jantel Lavender out of Ohio State scored 13 points, and former Maryland star Kristi Toliver sored 12 points.
Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles, the former LSU All-American and former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince each scored 16 points, while Erin Thorn off the bench scored 17 points.
Los Angeles had already coughed up one big lead since losing Candace Parker for six weeks to a knee injury. Washington, in its only win in the Mystics’ last 10 games, rallied from a 24-point second-half deficit to beat the Sparks in overtime in Los Angeles.
The Sparks will try to get another win Sunday on the road, visiting Indiana that is coming off of Friday’s last-second triumph in Washington.
Connecticut, trying to recover from Thursday’s home loss to Indiana, stays at the Mohegan Sun Arena to meet Atlanta for the first time this season.
The Dream, who struggled with injuries at the start, have now won five straight.
In a first-place showdown in the West red-hot Minnesota travels to surprising San Antonio.