Same style of play, new faces keys to victory

Mercury Land on Their Feet in Opener

By Mark Heller,
May 20, 2007

We have lift-off.

Nearly half of the Mercury’s starting lineup went from a runway to runand-gun hoops in the past 36 hours. Forward Penny Taylor arrived from Australia late Friday night. Guard Cappie Pondexter arrived from Turkey on Thursday night.

Ad-libs and adjustments worked well enough for the Mercury in their 81-72 victory against San Antonio Saturday night at US Airways Center, and even Suns coach Mike D’Antoni left his front row seat with a smile.

The Mercury are 4-7 on opening nights, and, coincidence or not, went to the playoffs each of those previous three years they won game No. 1 (1997, 1998, 2000).

But baby steps first, since the Mercury needed two weeks to get that first one last season.

“I guess that’s progress,” Mercury coach Paul Westhead said.

For the team’s locker room, progress and victory were more than enough for the announced crowd of 10,401.

Still without a full team practice, the Mercury pieced their way through at times, and Westhead dug into last year’s playbook to help jog memories of Taylor and Pondexter.

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The late arrivals had trouble shooting, (combined 4 of 16), but Pondexter had seven assists and three rebounds, and Taylor managed to play more than half of the game.

Newcomers to the system, however, helped the cause. Kelly Mazzante scored nine of her 12 points in the first half. Tangela Smith was effi- cient with 17 points, three rebounds and three assists, and Kelly Schumacher made San Antonio’s frontline of Sophia Young and Ruth Riley struggle offensively.

“We were rampant with mistakes at times,” Westhead said. “But the effort was terrific.”

The Mercury used a 13-0 run in the first half to build an early second-quarter lead, and their Suns-esque offense stretched it to 48-28 by halftime.

Fatigue, wobbly legs and some unfamiliarity appeared during the second half, and San Antonio didn’t take as kindly to its first-half whipping. The Silver Stars (0-1) hacked the 20-point deficit down to 10 by the end off the third quarter, then got within eight points twice before.

But Kelly Miller (15 points, four rebounds, six assists) nailed a 3-pointer with four minutes left, and the Silver Stars couldn’t threaten again.

“They came out with more spunk,” said Diana Taurasi, who had 20 points, six rebounds and four assists. “You know they’re mad after the first-half (butt) kicking.”

Turnovers mounted, shots clanged and the early-game excitement and concentration waned.

“I know we’ll talk about that on Monday,” Smith said.

For now, the Mercury tread water until some rest and practice time get everyone up to speed, but floating is more relaxing at 1-0.

“I give them a lot of credit,” Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said. “They outplayed us and deserved to win.”

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.