Hot Taurasi-led Mercury ready for Storm rematch
The Storm can clinch the the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference by beating Phoenix on Tuesday at KeyArena, but don't expect it to be easy.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Phoenix Mercury @ Storm, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2
Diana Taurasi sat in a befuddled visitor's locker room last month, trying to figure out a 23-point loss to the Storm at KeyArena.
The WNBA's reigning MVP then made a proclamation about Seattle that the media gobbled up: "I don't see them losing another game the rest of the season, really," Taurasi said.
Seven weeks later, the Storm is 20-2, and Taurasi's Phoenix Mercury looks far different from the team that limped out of Seattle on June 6. Tuesday's nationally televised game between the two on ESPN2 appears to be a sneak preview of the Western Conference finals.
When recalling Taurasi's quote, the Storm's Swin Cash's head swiveled like a hawk looking for prey as she scanned teammates after practice at KeyArena.
"Who's believing what (she's) saying?' " Cash asked rhetorically of her former college teammate at Connecticut. "She's the master of blowing smoke. She's so crazy.
"But I know how competitive she is. If you're trying to tell me that Diana Taurasi doesn't think she can beat us or be in the Finals, I would say you're crazy."
Now Taurasi's prediction doesn't seem so far off the mark. Seattle (20-2) lost its second game of the season to Indiana on June 17, but is on an 11-game winning streak and needs just one more victory to secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Storm would be the fastest to clinch the seed in WNBA history.
Taurasi's Mercury was 3-4 and struggling mightily when she made her comment in Seattle. Stars like Australian Olympian Penny Taylor arrived late due to overseas play, new acquisitions like Candice Dupree needed to adjust, and Taurasi had a hand injury.
Now the second-place Mercury (10-12) is averaging 107.5 points in July and has won five of its past seven games. One of the losses was in triple overtime to Seattle at US Airways Center. In the past two victories, Phoenix totaled 250 points.
Tuesday's game looks like the closest thing to must-see TV that the WNBA has produced all summer.
"It's always something new when we play Phoenix," Cash said. "Seriously, it's becoming that kind of rivalry and it's fun."
Last week the Mercury traded center Nicole Ohlde and a first-round draft pick to Tulsa for Kara Braxton, who won a WNBA title with Detroit. Braxton gives Phoenix the physical post presence it has lacked since letting Storm forward Le'coe Willingham walk away via free agency. And she gives the Mercury a new dynamic Tuesday, although Phoenix has played big lineups before. It forced Storm point guard Sue Bird, just 5 feet 9, to guard 6-4 reserve DeWanna Bonner in the triple-OT game.
"Phoenix is one of those teams that really challenges your defense," said Storm coach Brian Agler, whose team is holding opponents to 73.3 points. "You can play, at times, great defense against Phoenix, and they'll still score on you. They've got that type of mentality and talent on their team."
Seattle, which is on pace to break the WNBA's record for wins in a season (28), has gone into overtime three times in its past four games with Phoenix.
While little is easy to predict, even for Taurasi, Cash knows one thing: "We don't want that triple-overtime game to happen again," she said.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com
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