Mercury Break Fever in OT

By Stefan Swiat, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: April 9, 2008

When Ann Meyers Drysdale saw Diana Taurasi play in high school, the Mercury GM knew even then that she was special.

Taurasi has proved Meyers Drysdale’s assessment correct over the years, but her latest accomplishment has definitely solidified it. The WNBA announced today that the 6-0 Mercury guard/forward was named the 2009 WNBA MVP.

It is the latest in a long line of trophies to be displayed on Taurasi’s mantle. She already lays claim to three NCAA Championships at UCONN, the 2004 WNBA Rookie of the Year, two Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008) and the 2007 WNBA Finals Championship.

“I went overseas this past year and I made a commitment to myself to get better mentally and physically,” Taurasi said. “I wanted to get better and something I wasn’t very good at and it was something as simple as a pivot or a jab-step, being consistent on the free throw line or rebounding every game. I tried to carry all that over into the WNBA which is the hardest most intense league you can play in if you play women’s basketball.”

No. 3’s stats speak for themselves. She led the league in scoring at 20.4 points a game while shooting a career high 46.1 percent from the field.

In addition, she ranked first in the league three-pointers made, third in free throws made, third in assists, sixth in defensive rebounds, sixth in free throw percentage, seventh in three-point field goal percentage and eighth in blocks per game. She also led her team to the WNBA’s best record and franchise-best-tying 23 victories.

Taurasi’s evolution as a player is obvious. Coming out of college, she was known as scorer, but Taurasi had led her squad in assists this postseason. She even extended her assists to off the court.

Above everyone else, she credited her teammates with her MVP trophy.

“The award should say Phoenix Mercury on it because everyone contributed to what it is,” Taurasi said.

After being charged with a DUI on July 2 and being suspended for two games, Taurasi said her teammates rallied around her like no one else. It was a gut-check moment for the 27 year-old.

“For a minute I lost my focus,” she explained. “It reminds you how fragile life and one’s career is.

“Whether it’s in sports, writing or something else that you love to do, you should never put it in jeopardy. For a minute there I did, and I’ll keep that in the back of my head for the rest of my life.”

Taurasi ran away with the MVP race, earning 323 votes. The next closest was Indiana’s Tamika Catchings with 163. With illustrious awards like the MVP, often players are given the award because voters feel that “it is their time to win it.”

But as Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines points out, that is definitely not the case this year.

“If you want to go by numbers it’s there,” Gaines said. “If you want to go by a winning team; it’s there. If you want a player who does it on both ends; she does it on both ends.

“There are really no loopholes in her game. Every night it’s all there.”

From Meyers Drysdale’s perspective, it’s just a matter of an immensely talented player and athlete fulfilling her potential.

“She’s got it,” the Hall of Famer said. “You can say that about all athletes that are gifted in their field, no matter what it is. Is she our Tiger Woods? Right now, I think she is.”

After totaling 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a Game 1 victory over the Fever, she proved once again why she's being referred to as MVDee.

Shining Off the Pine

With leading scorers Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter saddled on the bench in the foul trouble in the first half, the Mercury needed a spark. What’s better than turning to a former All-WNBA First Team performer for a little offense?

Penny Taylor came to the rescue Tuesday, erupting for 18 first-half points, nailing 6-of-9 from the field and 2-of-3 from behind the arc. For the game, Taylor connected on 7-of-10 shots from the field and 7-of-8 from the line to wind up with 23 points.

“In the first half I just wanted to come out and attack, be aggressive and give Cappie and Diana a rest and make sure we didn’t lose anything on the offensive end,” the 6-1 forward said. It’s just another day at the office for Taylor, who in her last Finals game before this one, drained 18-of-18 from the line to finish with a game-high 30 points and give the Mercury their first-ever title.

“We all know that Penny is one of the top players in the world,” Gaines said. “She can definitely score.

“It’s a luxury because I could rest Cappie with foul trouble and go with Penny. It’s a different kind of attack but it still puts points on the board.”

Sixth Woman of the Year DeWanna Bonner also provided her usual lift off the bench. The 6-4 Bonner scored 15, including two huge buckets in OT. The team’s leading rebounder during the regular season also added five boards and two blocks.

In the first half, Phoenix outscored Indiana 30-5 off the bench. For the game, the Merc held a 45-17 advantage.

Kerr's Krew

When Michael Jordan needed a teammate to step up, he often looked to sharpshooter Steve Kerr. So why shouldn't the Mercury?

Suns President of Basketball Operations and GM Steve Kerr purchased the upper-level of US Airways Center for Game 1 of the Finals against the Mercury. Fans were able to claim up to eight tickets per person by mentioning Kerr’s Krew at the ticket office before the game.

“Larry Bird purchased the upper level for the Fever’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Indiana and I want to show the same support for our amazing Mercury,” said Kerr. “Both of us were part of championship teams and understand the importance of a packed house. For anyone who doubts the WNBA level of play, this is an opportunity to see for yourself. I challenge any doubters to come see the talent, skill and intensity on the court.”

Kerr’s move set the tone for Alvin Gentry to follow suit. The Suns Head Coach has extended the same offer as Kerr on a first-come, first-served basis.

“After watching the game from San Diego and feeling the playoff atmosphere from the crowd, I wanted to show my support for these ladies. We see the hard work they put in on the practice court and in the weight room, and I encourage people to take this opportunity to witness what we see every day,” said Gentry. “I respect and admire Coach Gaines’ position right now and hope that the Suns find the chemistry the Mercury have this season.”

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