All-Star’s return to form has helped team get on track

Taurasi Playing Like Herself Again

By Mark Heller,
June 13, 2007

The tank was empty, in need of fuel.

Diana Taurasi’s life has revolved around basketball for the past year (and many more years prior). Recently her ignition switches wouldn’t light.

The All-Star is coming off an MVP-caliber season with the Mercury in 2006 and is a leading candidate again this year, but for about 10 days she wasn’t herself.

The game was a grind, not fun. She was tired and not shooting well. At times moody and easily annoyed.

To a degree, the team followed the franchise player’s lead. The Mercury lost the final two games of a difficult road trip two weeks ago, then came home but gave Minnesota its first — and only — win of the season.

“I’m just getting back into a groove again,” Taurasi said. “I kind of hit a wall physically and mentally. Things like that happen, I’ll be the first to admit it. The three-game stretch we lost, I didn’t play up to my ability, and I know when that happens our team is going to have a tough time winning. It was definitely on me.

“The funny thing is we had a chance to win those games, and in past years we wouldn’t have come close.”

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In 2006, she played a full WNBA season until late August, went to Brazil in September to play with USA Basketball and finished in time to spend four months in Russia. The day after winning the Russian championships, she flew from Moscow to California in time for her sister’s wedding.

Two days later she was in Phoenix and managed a couple of practices before the season opener on May 19.

Through the season’s first three weeks, the Mercury (6-4) have played more games than any other team in the league.

But they are starting to see a lighter schedule, and a diminished grind of travel and quick turnarounds allowed for a small breather.

“It was more of a mental wall, and once you lose it mentally you can forget it,” Taurasi said. “Sometimes you get completely drained and the only way to rejuvenate is to get everything out of the tank, and I felt I had nothing in the tank.”

In that three-game losing streak, she shot 14-for-38 (7 of 22 from behind the arc) and 5-for-6 from the free throw line.

In the two games since (both Mercury wins), she’s 14-for-31 (8 of 18 from outside) and 14-for-16 from the free throw line, plus 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

“Nothing’s changed,” forward Jennifer Lacy said Monday.

She’s averaging 18.4 points, four rebounds and four assists this season. Nice numbers for most, but Mercury coach Paul Westhead left little doubt they will continue ascending.

“I’d expect that would be the pattern now getting into the flow of the season,” Westhead said. “Good things are upon us because of her. What looks like some breakdown or glitches, you can’t make much of it because it won’t last.”

The Mercury’s offense hasn’t reached Westhead’s idea of its zenith. The team is averaging three fewer points per game than last season, but players and coaches say the best is yet to come.

If such a prediction includes Taurasi, she may do one better than being a candidate for MVP.

“Now, I feel good,” she said. “A couple good days of practice and I’m starting to feel good again.”

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.