Miller Makes Mercury Click

By Mark Heller
East Valley Tribune
June 26, 2006

The Mercury brass kept repeating themselves for the past six weeks: Wait until Kelly Miller gets healthy. Well, the wait is over, and Sunday’s 90-77 win over Chicago at US Airways Center offered a glimpse of what’s been anticipated since Phoenix traded Anna DeForge for Miller.

Since she suffered a hamstring injury during training camp, then aggravated it during the season opener, the team felt it was a bit behind an 8-ball. Jen Derevjanik and Crystal Smith filled in admirably with extended minutes, but coach Paul Westhead insisted things would be different.

Derevjanik, and especially the 5-foot-6 Smith, were key again Sunday. But with Miller (12 points, five rebounds, seven assists, zero turnovers) inserted back into the starting lineup, the Mercury (5-7) were off to the races against the lowly Sky, and kept themselves in the thick of a muddled Western Conference.

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A huge rebounding advantage and the extra pass made all the difference, and, though limited to 20 minutes, Miller was the instigator of both.

“It’s hard when you pull a hammy and it’s hard to miss 2 1 /2 weeks, especially on a new team,” Diana Taurasi said. “She’s our motor. When she goes, we go.”

Sunday was fun again for the home team, and the normally reserved guard couldn’t help but crack some smiles.

“I’m trying to get this team moving,” Miller said. “Our offense is based on pushing the ball and getting in the open floor. It’s taken a bit to get back in the flow, but I’m getting there.”

Cappie Pondexter was back to her old self with 23 points and four rebounds, including a third-quarter stretch where she hit three consecutive 3-pointers. Taurasi (14 points) had six assists and Kamila Vodichkova snapped out of her shooting funk with 19 points and nine rebounds. The Mercury amassed 40 rebounds and a whopping 22 assists.

“Tonight they shot lights out,” said Chicago coach Dave Cowens, whose team lost its 13th consecutive game to tie the league’s all-time losing streak. “Whenever they were open, they made every damn thing.” Unlike Friday, the Mercury got started quickly. Chicago never got within single digits after the middle of the second quarter. Westhead loved what he’s waited weeks to see. “She made a significant difference offensively and defensively,” he said. “We’re about ready to see her real impact.”