With 12,000 screaming children filling the stands during Wednesday's matinee game, the Phoenix Mercury (10-5) failed to carry their new-found momentum into the All-Star break, falling just short to the Minnesota Lynx, 106-98. The upset snaps a six game win streak, and is the first loss for Phoenix since June 28th.
Carried by a gritty effort from newly announced All-Star forward Penny Taylor, the Mercury battled hard through a strenuous back and forth first half that featured nine lead changes. Down by four late in the second quarter, Taylor nailed a long three pointer to ignite a 6-1 run that gave Phoenix a 51-50 advantage heading into the break.
Though the Mercury's momentum would be short lived. Led by their All-Star foursome, Minnesota burst out of the gate to begin the second half, overwhelming the Mercury with smothering defensive pressure that led to a 16-6 run that broke open the game. The Mercury would never again regain the lead.
Lynx guard Seimone Augustus led the Minnesota assault with 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.
"They are a very good team this year," Mercury forward Candace Dupree said after the game. "In the third quarter we lost focus. Minnesota is kind of known for their defense and you have to learn to adjust."
A late fourth quarter onslaught by DeWanna Bonner narrowed the gap to single digits, but the run proved to be too little too late, as Minnesota held on to secure the win, overtaking Phoenix for first place in the Western Conference heading into the All-Star break.
The day after being named to the third All-Star game of her career, Taylor managed to shoot an almost perfect 8-of-10 from the field, finishing with 23 points, 5 assist, and 4 rebounds in the loss.
"We just couldn't stop them," Mercury head coach Corey Gaines said. "Now we see where we've got to get to. The second half [of the season] is where you have to grind it out and get your position."
Despite the bitter taste left in their mouths from the loss, the Mercury must feel good about the way the 2011 season has turned out. After opening the season with a disastrous three game losing streak, Phoenix righted the ship in fantastic fashion, rattling off wins in ten of their next twelve games to head into the midseason break with the second-best first-half record in the franchise's history.
"Once we got our focus and realized how well we could play, and how much effort it took to play that well, we have been rolling," Taylor said. "We definitely have to have that same focus coming off the break."
The Mercury host the defending champion Seattle Storm (7-7) at U.S. Airways Center following this weekend's All-Star festivities in San Antonio. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.