SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Silver Stars eked out a victory over the top-seeded Phoenix Mercury in game one of the Western Conference Semifinal series between the two teams.
With their marquee players rested after not suiting up in the last game of the regular season, the Silver Stars outlasted the run-and-gun Mercury in front of a crowd of 5,721 at the AT&T Center Thursday night.
The last time the previous two Western Conference champions met in the regular season, San Antonio set several franchise records. They continued that streak into the postseason with a record 52 first-half points Thursday.
Silver Stars head coach Dan Hughes was impressed with his team’s ability to withstand a fourth-quarter Phoenix run. San Antonio led for most of the game.
“Watching both teams I thought that our ability to take that last run they had at us and our ability to answer it was really key,” said Hughes. “Probably the thing that helped it the most was our ball movement and I thought Sophia Young really converted on some key actions on the inside. You had players like Vickie Johnson who had eight assists and valued the ball really well. Edwige Lawson-Wade really gave us a solid game as well. It was just a good team win.”
Sophia Young led all scorers with 24 points. Edwige Lawson-Wade added 16, Becky Hammon had 13 and Shanna Crossley 11.
From the outset, San Antonio’s defensive pressure disrupted the offensive rhythm of Phoenix preventing them from getting many second-chance points. The Silver Stars had 25 to the Mercury’s 15.
Lawson-Wade set the tone for San Antonio with a three-point shot to give her team the first points of the game. Hughes was especially pleased with her performance during the game and for much of the summer.
“She’s been excellent,” said Hughes. “The best thing she does is run our club. She gives us a stronger level of ball movement.”
San Antonio led for all of the second quarter and built a 10-point lead. However, a layup by Phoenix rookie DeWanna Bonner began her team’s effort to cut their deficit. With 11 seconds left in the half, the Mercury were only behind by two but Silver Stars reserve guard Crossley made a three-point shot with only 2.2 seconds left putting her team ahead 52-47 at the break.
Phoenix head coach Corey Gaines was not worried about the Phoenix halftime lead.
“The tempo of the game was in our favor going into halftime,” he said “despite the three-point play by the Stars at the end of the half.
Gaines gave credit to the Silver Stars reserves.
“They had big shots from players who don’t usually hit them.”
The last time the two teams met, it was during the third quarter that Silver Stars pulled away and started to build an insurmountable lead. It appeared that history would repeat itself Thursday night as the Silver Stars built up an 11-point lead over the Mercury early in the second half and never let up their defensive pressure.
Phoenix’s Penny Taylor carried the team on her back in the fourth quarter, scoring thirteen points, to keep them within striking distance. Her effort coupled with Cappie Pondexter’s seven points in the final quarter put the Mercury in the position to win the game several times but turnovers effectively canceled out much of their effort.
“When we were on their heels at the end of the game we turned the ball over,” said Gaines. “Turnovers will do you in, especially with a team of this caliber.”
In the end, San Antonio’s stars made the big clutch plays. Sophia Young had eight points in the fourth quarter and Becky Hammon made crucial free throws with two seconds left in regulation, giving her team a four-point lead. Phoenix’s Penny Taylor made a buzzer-beating three-point shot to close the gap by one, but it was not enough.
The next game of the three-game series is Saturday in Phoenix at US Airways Center at 10pm ET. The game will be televised on NBA TV. Game Three (if necessary) will also be in at Phoenix on Monday at 10pm ET and televised on ESPN2.
This story originally published on SportsPageMagazine.com.