20070519/SANPHO
Mercury Rise Above Silver Stars in Opener

Phoenix 81, San Antonio 72

PHOENIX, May 19 (AP) -- The Phoenix Mercury needed five games to earn their first victory a year ago.

This time, they got it on opening night, defeating the San Antonio Silver Stars 81-72 Saturday behind 20 points from Diana Taurasi and 17 from newcomer Tangela Smith.

"That's progress,'' second-year coach Paul Westhead said. "I'm a happy coach, being 1-0.''

Kelly Miller scored 15 points and Kelly Mazzante had 12 for the Mercury, who won their first opener since 2000.

"You have to start the season off on a good note,'' Smith said.

The Mercury was energized by a crowd of 10,401, which included Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, whose team was eliminated from the NBA playoffs Friday night. D'Antoni and his family watched the game from courtside seats and received a standing ovation.

Phoenix played its preseason games without starters Taurasi, Penny Taylor and Cappie Pondexter, who were finishing seasons overseas. But it didn't take long for the team to come together.

The Mercury, who set a WNBA record with 87.1 points per game last year, shot 56 percent from the floor in the first half on their way to a 48-28 lead at intermission.

"The first half is always important, especially in the opener,'' Taurasi said. "People are excited to be out there and there's a lot of energy.''

San Antonio led 18-15 midway through the first quarter when Phoenix went on a 15-0 run that began when Miller stole a pass and raced to the other end for a layup. By the time the Silver Stars' Ruth Riley made a basket early in the second quarter, the Mercury led 30-18.

Phoenix cooled in the second half, and the Silver Stars pulled within 73-64 with 3:30 to play but couldn't draw any closer.

"If we'd have been sitting down 10 or 11, this would have been a heck of a finish,'' San Antonio coach Dan Hughes said.

Sophia Young scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for San Antonio, and Becky Hammon had 15 points for the Silver Stars.

The Mercury had 19 turnovers, which they hope to reduce in their next game, at Seattle on Wednesday night.

"It was rampant with mistakes, but the effort was terrific,'' Westhead said. "Tonight was a nice step forward to get a win.

"We will get better,'' Westhead said. "We will be a better basketball team than we did tonight, so I'm excited.''