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Taurasi, Willingham lead Mercury past Liberty

Jul 27, 2009 - 12:13 AM By VIN A. CHERWOO AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK(AP) -- Diana Taurasi dominated in her return to the Phoenix Mercury.

Taurasi had 34 points and 13 rebounds in her first game for Phoenix after a suspension for a DUI arrest, and Le'Coe Willingham scored four late points to lift the Mercury to a 94-88 victory over the New York Liberty on Sunday.

"I just tried to do a little bit of everything," Taurasi said. "Getting on the glass is one thing we're not good at, so we're trying to pick that side of the ball up a little bit more."

Taurasi scored 18 points in Saturday's WNBA All-Star game in her first game back after being suspended by the Mercury for their previous two games.

Against the Liberty, she had 31 points through three quarters, but took just one shot - a key 3-pointer she made - in the fourth. She finished 10 for 19 from the floor, including 4 for 8 on 3s.

"She got tired in the third," Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. "The last shot she took (in the quarter), I knew wasn't going in. She didn't step into it like she usually does. She's a rhythm shooter, so you could see when it goes."

Willingham finished with 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting for the Mercury (13-5), who won for the seventh time in eight games. Cappie Pondexter, who began the day tied with Taurasi for the league's scoring lead at 20.7 points per game, had 10 after a 3-for-16 effort. Rookie DeWanna Bonner also scored 10 for Phoenix.

Shameka Christon scored 21 points and Essence Carson had 14 for New York (6-10), which lost its second straight after winning three of four. Cathrine Kraayeveld added 13 points and rookie Kia Vaughn had a season-high 11.

Christon, who guarded Taurasi most of the game, credited the Mercury star's effort.

"She was really determined to take over," Christon said. "That's what she did. She's a great player. ... Anytime I give somebody 31 points, or however many she had, I'm not happy about that."

After trailing by 12 in the first half, the Mercury rallied to take the lead midway through the third quarter, and stretched it to nine in the fourth.

Christon, coming off her first All-Star game, scored seven straight points, including a three-point play with 3:46 left, to pull New York to 79-77.

"Shameka has really come into her own in the past year," Taurasi said. "She's probably the most confident I've seen her in a long time, and when she gets going it's tough to stop her."

After Temeka Johnson made two free throws for the Mercury, Carson scored four consecutive points to tie the score at 81 on her two free throws with 2:55 to go.

Taurasi's 3 gave the Mercury an 86-83 lead a little more than a minute later. Loree Moore made two free throws to cut New York's deficit to one with 1:41 left, and Tangela Smith's jumper 40 seconds later restored Phoenix's three-point margin.

Kraayeveld's 3-pointer tied the score at 88 with 50 seconds to go.

The Mercury used a 17-4 run over a nearly four-minute stretch early in the third quarter to take a five point lead.

"It was those four minutes," Liberty coach Pat Coyle said. "We can't have empty possessions against a team like Phoenix because they make you pay for it on the other end. I thought we went through a little bit of a stretch where we didn't execute like we needed to."

Taurasi made four free throws as the Mercury scored six straight points to pull to 50-48 with 6:52 left in the third.

Phoenix scored eight consecutive points, taking a 57-54 lead - its first of the game - on Ketia Swanier's 3-pointer midway through the quarter, and stretching the advantage to five on Pondexter's jumper 48 seconds later.

Taurasi's 3-pointer pushed the lead to 68-61 with about 1 1/2 minutes left in the third.

Willingham's three-point play gave the Mercury their biggest lead, 79-70, with 6 1/2 minutes left in the fourth.

After making just 5 of 18 shots and trailing by 12 in the first quarter, the Mercury were 11 for 21 in the second. Phoenix had a 13-2 run to pull to 33-32 on Pondexter's layup with 4:52 left in the first half.

Moore had a jumper and Carson a layup just before halftime to give the Liberty a 47-42 lead at the break. Kraayeveld made a jumper and Moore a free throw to increase the lead to eight with 1 1/2 minutes into the third quarter.

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