May 21, 2004

Monarchs 72, Mercury 66

PHOENIX -- Diana Taurasi already has made the Phoenix Mercury exciting. Making them a winner is a bigger challenge.

Taurasi scored 22 points in her WNBA debut -- including a 50-foot bank shot at the halftime buzzer -- but Yolanda Griffith led the Sacramento Monarchs to a 72-66 victory Thursday night over the Mercury.

Taurasi almost never had to talk about a loss in college. She knows that it's different now.

``That's life,'' she said, ``especially when you play in the WNBA, when every team you play is a good team.''

Taurasi fouled out with 34.6 seconds left, falling a point shy of the record for a player in her first WNBA game.

Was she nervous?

``No,'' she said. ``I mean, it's just another basketball game once you throw the ball up for the tip.''

Griffith had 17 points and nine rebounds as the bigger Monarchs dominated inside, outrebounding the Mercury 34-23.

Kara Lawson added 10 points, including four free throws in the final 34.6 seconds. Ticha Penicheiro and rookie Rebekkah Brunson also scored 10 apiece for the winners.

Taurasi, the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft after leading Connecticut to three consecutive NCAA championships, made seven of 13 shots -- three of six from 3-point range. She also had three blocked shots.

``She's awesome,'' Sacramento coach John Whisenant said. ``She has always intrigued me. She has the Bird, Magic and John Stockton ability to see the floor.''

Australian Penny Taylor, the No. 1 choice in the dispersal draft of players from the defunct Cleveland Rockers, scored 21 points for the Mercury on 7-for-9 shooting.

A raucous crowd of 10,493 watched the game, the largest for Phoenix at home since the upper bowl at America West Arena was closed for Mercury games in 2001. Many of them came to see college basketball's player of the year.

``I think that's interesting,'' Taurasi said. ``I mean, whatever it takes to get the people out to the arena like it was tonight. It was great. If it takes one person to discover this great team, I think that's good.''

Taurasi made her first shot, a 3-pointer.

She had 10 points, three rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots in the first half, and would have had two more assists had teammates not missed open layups.

Taurasi split time between shooting and point guard.

``Obviously her versatility is special,'' Phoenix coach Carrie Graf. ``She's special in a lot of ways. We don't want to wear her down by having her carry the ball up the floor, score, pass and then defend a decent player at the other end.''

While the Mercury made many changes after an 8-26 seasons, Sacramento is virtually the same team that made it to the conference finals a year ago.

``As veterans, we need to use our leadership to win games,'' Griffith said.

Taurasi's second 3-pointer put the Mercury up 18-12 with 8:36 left in the half. But Phoenix didn't score over the next 3:50 and Sacramento used its superior size in a 7-0 spurt to go up 19-18 on DeMya Walker's right-handed hook with 4:58 to go.

The Monarchs' run reached 23-9 when Penicheiro made a turnaround 11-footer to make it 35-26 with 2.6 seconds to go until the break. Taurasi grabbed the inbounds pass and let fly a two-hander from beyond the halfcourt line. The shot banked in and Taurasi had a wry grin as she left the court with Sacramento leading 35-29.

Phoenix scored the first nine points of the second half. The Mercury regained the lead at 36-35 when Taylor grabbed a rebound, scored and was fouled for a three-point play. Taylor's 10-footer capped the spurt and gave Phoenix a 38-35 lead with 16:08 left.

The Monarchs went on a 12-4 run to go up 49-44 on Lady Grooms' 17-footer with 9:47 to play.

Taylor's two free throws cut it to 56-54 with 6:13 left, but Griffith scored inside, then made two free throws to ignite a 9-1 surge. Lawson's 3-pointer gave the Monarchs their biggest lead at 64-55 with 4:08 remaining.

Next up for Taurasi is a return to Connecticut for a nationally televised game that already is sold out.

Storm 88, Lynx 85

SEATTLE -- On opening night, Lauren Jackson still looked like the MVP.

Jackson scored 31 points and Betty Lennox added 18 points and 10 rebounds in her Seattle debut, leading the Storm to an 88-85 win over the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA opener for both teams Thursday night.

Jackson, last season's league MVP, had 20 second-half points. She hit 11 of 16 from the floor and missed one of eight free throws. She also had five rebounds and two blocked shots.

``All our plays, in some shape or form, go through Lauren because she draws so much attention,'' said Sue Bird, who scored 17 for Seattle. ``At the end, it was a combination of her making some pretty unbelievable shots and for whatever reason they stopped doubling her.''

Jackson scored 16 points in the last 10 minutes, including a stretch of 14 straight for Seattle. It was her 54th straight game scoring in double figures, tying Lisa Leslie of Los Angeles for second place in league history.

``I'm just really happy we got the win,'' Jackson said. ``It was looking a little like a rainy day there but we've got some firepower on our team. We came up with a few stops and we won, which is great.''

Teresa Edwards and Katie Smith each scored 17 points for Minnesota, while rookie Nicole Ohlde added 16 and another rookie, Tasha Butts, added 13. Stacey Lovelace-Tolbe had 12.

``It's definitely a learning experience,'' Ohlde said. ``We're still learning about each other.''

Jackson took over in the closing minutes, just when it seemed the Lynx had enough momentum to win. Minnesota erased a 39-36 halftime deficit with a 17-9 run to gain control early in the second half.

Jackson had two 3-pointers and a three-point play in the final 7:32. Her two free throws with 2:34 to go pulled Seattle within a point at 80-79 and she had another three-point play to put the Storm ahead 84-82 with 1:23 remaining.

``We just keep running plays for her, so she can take it over. We get the ball in her hands,'' Seattle coach Anne Donovan said.

After Edwards made one of two free throws, she missed a 3-point try with the shot clock winding down.

Lennox, obtained in the dispersal draft from Cleveland, hit one of two free throws to put Seattle up 85-83, then slapped the ball away from Edwards when she drove. Sheri Sam came away with it, hitting two free throws to seal the win.

``She tried to lean in and get the foul but I knew she was going to shoot,'' Lennox said. ``She was too close not to shoot.''

Edwards said: ``What do you want to know? I feel like I got fouled and the ref didn't call it. It's a crucial point in the game.''

Silver Stars 64, Comets 55

HOUSTON -- Marie Ferdinand wanted to guard Sheryl Swoopes on Thursday night. She did that and a lot more, leading the San Antonio Silver Stars to a 64-55 victory over the Houston Comets.

Swoopes is the two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, including last season. Swoopes scored 32 points, 22 the second half when the Comets beat San Antonio 71-54 in the preseason.

``Marie told me after that game she wanted to guard Sheryl the next time we played,'' coach Dee Brown said. ``So we let her and she did a pretty good job.''

Swoopes, who has averaged 17.2 points throughout her career, was held to eight Thursday night. Meanwhile, Ferdinand scored 20 of her 26 points to lead a second-half comeback in the season opener for both teams.

``My goal is to be the Defensive Player of the Year this season,'' Ferdinand said. ``I was just trying to contain her. You can't totally stop her.

``But I thought I did a great job on her tonight.''

The Comets agreed.

``Ferdinand chewed us up and spit us out,'' Comets coach Van Chancellor said. ``What a way to start the season. In a new building (the Toyota Center), you're trying to impress your fans and we came out and played so horribly. We've got about as far to go as I've ever seen us need to go.''

Swoopes couldn't argue that.

``It's pretty frustrating,'' she said. ``Especially when we started off so well in the first half. We just didn't execute. We just handed this to them. We'll have to bounce back and be ready for tomorrow.''

Tina Thompson led Houston with 20 points.

``I think we came out a little too comfortable,'' Thompson said. ``We had a lead but not one big enough to get comfortable with. I'm surprised at how complacent we were in the second half. Hopefully, it'll be a lesson.''

Gwen Jackson added 17 points and nine rebounds, and Shannon Johnson scored 10 for San Antonio, which went in front with a 17-0 run.

San Antonio hit only 27.3 percent on 9-of-33 shooting the first half and trailed by 11 points at the break. But the Silver Stars hit 12 of their first 16 shots in the second half.

Ferdinand scored seven points in the decisive run to a 42-38 lead with 14:53 remaining.

The Comets made five of their first eight 3-point attempts -- including three of four by Thompson -- and led 20-15. Later in the half, Houston got its fast break going and threatened to make it a rout.

Scoring six points off the break, the Comets had a 10-2 streak to lead 34-23 with 1:40 left in the first half. They settled for that lead at the break with Thompson getting 12 points.

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