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Originally published Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Storm loses exhibition finale

Rookie Ashley Walker made the most of her opportunity in the Storm's second and final preseason game Saturday night, but her team didn't. Walker turned in a solid effort with 12 points and 12 rebounds, but the Storm unraveled in the fourth period, scoring only six points and lost 61-58 to the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday night at US Airways Center. The Storm led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter.

Special to The Seattle Times

PHOENIX — Brian Agler learned a few things about his Storm team Saturday night.

Not all of it was good.

The effort of rookie Ashley Walker drew his praise, but there were things to find fault with as the Phoenix Mercury came back from a 15-point second-half deficit to grab a 61-58 victory at US Airways Center.

"I think we played 2 ½ pretty good quarters, and then I thought we got a little bit lax and played against a hungrier group of players out there," Agler said after the team's exhibition finale. "They had a group out there trying to make that team, and they showed it."

The Storm managed only six points in the final period and saw the game slip away when the Mercury's Sha Brooks hit a three-pointer with 1:16 to give her team a 59-57 lead.

"I don't think some of our main people are in shape yet," Agler said. "I think they ran out of gas ... and we learned a little bit about some individuals who can step up and who can make plays, those kind of things."

Walker, who played almost 15 minutes in the second half and logged over 20 in the game, had 12 points and 12 rebounds, nine on the offensive end. Her stalwart work late in the second quarter elevated the Storm to a 37-34 halftime lead.

Tanisha Wright led the Storm with 16 points, and Camille Little had 11.

"I thought she [Walker] had good minutes out there," Walker said. "She had a nose for the basketball and played pretty well."

Sue Bird called Walker relentless: "She never gives up, she just keeps fighting."

Walker had no expectations, only wanting to play hard.

"I just go out there and play my game, get rebounds, get steals and get stops," she said. "And if the ball comes into my hands, I try to score. I just have to keep being me and being more aggressive."

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The Storm looked on the verge of an easy win, holding a 52-43 lead entering the fourth quarter after leading 51-36 with 4:02 left in the third. But the Mercury bench players, many fighting for roster spots, increased their intensity.

Bird had five points but led the team with four assists.

"I think we just kind of lost our focus a little bit," she said. "I really think we kind of let down our guard, and they didn't."

Bird said losing the lead highlighted the fact there is work to be done.

"It definitely brought some things to our attention," she said.

Forward Swin Cash, who had back surgery 11 weeks ago and has resumed practicing, did not play but should be ready for the regular-season opener Saturday in Sacramento.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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