Mercury Rising

The best baller in Phoenix doesn't play for the Suns. Can Diana Taurasi take the Mercury all the way?

But on the court, she means business, and she will bowl over opposing players whenever she can.

"She's a big guard. She's someone who can take you down," says Detroit Shock guard Katie Smith. Taurasi will get physical to block a shot or get the ball, and she's constantly in other players' faces.

It's nothing personal, Taurasi says: "I don't even see faces on the court. I see numbers and different-colored jerseys."

The Mercury’s trio of top league scorers: (From left) Cappie Pondexter, Diana Taurasi, and Penny Taylor.
courtesy of Phoenix Mercury
The Mercury’s trio of top league scorers: (From left) Cappie Pondexter, Diana Taurasi, and Penny Taylor.
Taurasi at the 2004 ESPY Awards.
AP/Wide World
Taurasi at the 2004 ESPY Awards.


The Phoenix Mercury plays the San Antonio Silver Stars in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday, September 1. Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster and at the U.S. Airways Center box office.
U.S. Airways Center

She was ejected from the May 29 game against the Sacramento Monarchs after getting whistled for a technical foul and a flagrant foul, within 67 seconds (the flagrant on Monarchs guard Kara Lawson was described as a "take down" that was "all head"). During the August 17 game at Sacramento, the crowd booed her when she hard-fouled Monarchs center/forward Yolanda Griffith near the end of the game.

She was suspended for two games in June for her conduct toward officials at a June 22 game against Detroit. She was giving refs lip about what she felt were bad calls.

The May ejection and June suspension were Taurasi's firsts. "I think I just lost my cool. There were a couple of calls that I didn't agree with . . . No big deal," she wrote on her May 30 blog. "Stuff happens, and you move on. People are making a big deal out of it, like I killed someone."

Taurasi exhibits such aggression only when competing. Whether it's basketball, tennis, ping-pong or Pac-Man, she wants to clobber her opponents. She's a fierce competitor who's out to win. That's her nature and that's what she does for a living.

When Diana Taurasi was still playing for the UConn Huskies, New Haven Register columnist Scott Cacciola wrote, "What Taurasi does on the court is authentic . . . Her legacy is assured."

During her collegiate career, Taurasi scored 1,583 points (seventh all-time at basketball powerhouse Connecticut), helped the Huskies win three NCAA championships, and was named the NCAA women's basketball tournament's Most Outstanding Player in 2003 and 2004. She won the 2003 Wade Trophy (named after Delta State University Coach Lily Margaret Wade, and presented annually to the best women's college basketball player in NCAA Division I). She also won the 2003 Associated Press Player of the Year award, and in 2003 and 2004, she was named Naismith College Player of the Year and Big East Player of the Year in women's basketball.

In his preface to the 2004 "Sportsmen of the Year" issue, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci wrote that Diana Taurasi was "the standard bearer for basketball excellence — gender be damned."

She was the number one pick in the WNBA draft in 2004, after which she made All-WNBA First Team and was named WNBA Rookie of the Year that season. She's been a WNBA All-Star for three years running (2005-07). She helped the United States women's basketball team win a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics. Last season, she scored 741 points to break Katie Smith's league record for most points scored in a season, then broke her own record to end the season with 860. She's already been named to the WNBA All-Decade Team, even though this is only her fourth year in the league.

Those who know women's basketball and who've competed with Taurasi say she's very hard to beat.

ASU women's basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne, who's led the lady Sun Devils to the NCAA tournament five times in the past seven years (including the university's first-ever appearance at the NCAA Elite Eight), remembers when the Sun Devils played the Huskies on their home court during Taurasi's senior year. With 10 minutes to go in the second half of a five-point game, Taurasi popped off some big shots and the Huskies won.

"We ended up losing by 18," Turner Thorne recalls. "And then [the Huskies] came back to us the next year — without Taurasi — and we beat them by 10.

"Taurasi's a tough match-up," Turner Thorne says. "You're never gonna completely neutralize her. She's so savvy. She's just the dagger woman. She'll just hit you with a big shot . . . She absolutely will be in the Hall of Fame for women's basketball."

Says Detroit's Katie Smith, "Her threes, she can pull from anywhere, and she can pull them quickly. She's obviously a talented basketball player who can score, but she's not opposed to giving the ball to her teammates."

Taurasi's not that fast, and at 6 feet and 172 pounds, she's certainly not the largest player in the league, or on the Mercury (that'd be 6-foot-5 center Kelly Schumacher). But Taurasi's touch is magic. She's known for pulling off three-point shots from way behind the line (during her UConn days, she netted a legendary 70-footer with four seconds to go in the first half of a January 2003 game against Tennessee). She's good under the boards, too, deftly slicing in for tight shots and rebounds. Her passes are fast and precise, and she's an aggressive shot-blocker. In one of her blog posts, Taurasi immodestly wrote, "I block shots like [NBA all-defensive center] Dikembe Mutombo."

Later, she said with a laugh, "That was maybe a little exaggeration, but it's just a good feeling [to block shots]. You kind of take away a little of their pride."

Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, who played for the Mercury in its inaugural season and went on to coach the Detroit Shock for three seasons before taking on her current role as a women's basketball analyst on ESPN, talks about how Taurasi stacks up against other players Lieberman's seen during her three-plus decades in the sport.

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Did you see the game last night against San Antonio? Way to sweep the playoffs, Mercury! The finals are going to be outstanding, but I doubt it will be Phoenix vs. Detroit. Look for the Indiana Fever to shut down the Shock today.


the sonics already hired a coach. i doubt westhead would rumored for a coaching position that's already been filled. p.j. carlesimo took the job earlier in the summer.

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