BY MIKE PEDEN
By no means are the Minnesota Lynx believing they can waltz any way they can with the Phoenix Mercury for game two of the Western Conference Finals Sunday at Phoenix's US Airways Center.
Minnesota can advance to the WNBA Finals with a win Sunday afternoon, but they are aware of how rapidly Phoenix can tilt the balance via the perimeter or pushing the tempo with perennial scoring champion Diana Taurasi, who is averaging 19.5 points per game this post-season.
"Phoenix at home is a deadly combination. Phoenix is like a cobra. You have to go in to game two thinking you're down 0-1," said Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who scored 14 points in Minnesota's 95-67 win Thursday night. "They're going to throw everything: kitchen sink, shoes, Corey Gaines (Phoenix head coach). We have to be prepared for whatever they bring us."
While the Mercury were the only team to beat the Lynx twice this season, two Lynx victories in the regular season series came on the road, including a 96-90 win to close out the year.
"They're going to be real upset. If you can't get intense, excited and motivated for this, they've got bigger problems," said Lynx reserve Candice Wiggins, who scored 14 points off the bench in game one.
Scouting the Lynx in the Western Conference Finals is astronomically different than the tentative, jittery exhibition that nearly led to a first-round sweep at the hands of San Antonio. Minnesota rekindled its fluid offensive production after taking scoring pressure off point guard Lindsay Whalen, allowing her to focus on setting up her teammates. She has only eight points in the last two games, but the remaining Lynx starters have scored at least 13 points or more in that span, earning two blowout victories.
To illustrate, Phoenix never got closer than six points in the second half of game one. Their three-point and field goal shooting fell flat for a team considered the bastion of both aspects (Phoenix made 20 percent of their three-pointers and 68 percent of their free throws). As usual, the Lynx dominated the Mercury on rebounds, getting 42 against the Mercury's 26. Had the Lynx not suffered ball control issues early, they could have sealed a victory long before the fourth quarter started.
"We forced the ball out a little bit further, making every shot difficult," said Lynx guard Seimone Augustus.
Minnesota remains mindful of Phoenix's offensive style, as any opponent would when facing the WNBA's top-scoring team. However, the concerns proved to be secret blessings for the Lynx in game one. University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, making a guest appearance for ESPN as a color commentator, believed the Mercury's up-tempo game did not create scenarios for the Lynx to make defensive mistakes on their own.
Another factor favoring Minnesota is emotional stability. While Taurasi's outburst after fouling out in game three of the Western Conference semifinal round at Seattle has faded, Phoenix head coach Corey Gaines was charged a technical foul only 3:14 into game one of the Western Conference Finals. Mercury forward Candice Dupree was called for technical fouls in two consecutive games, earning them in the final game of the Seattle series and in game one of the Minnesota series with 9:00 left in the fourth quarter. Adding to the irony was Dupree's ESPN interview stressing the need to keep Mercury emotions from boiling that aired in the Seattle series.
"From a Dupree standpoint, it's important to keep her out of the transition game. She is such a great rim runner," said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve after game one.
Of course, Phoenix's upset win over Seattle on the road will keep Minnesota's team in check while providing Corey Gaines' team confidence that one clunker does not define a playoff series.
"Augustus hit some great shots. We have got to limit her touches when we're in Phoenix," said Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner.
Programs available for DVD purchase
Autism: The Wall That Knows No Limits - Award-winning documentary series providing insights on autism rarely seen in contemporary media. Produced by someone on the spectrum, this series is a wealth of information for anyone seeking to learn about autism.
$15 for one episode, $50 for the complete series (4 episodes)
What Are You? A Dialogue on Mixed Race - Originally a school assignment, this one-hour documentary explores a population that existed for many years but didn't get much focus until recently. This program examines how a small but growing segment of the population could shift racial and cultural identity. Screened at the 2009 Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival and will be screened at the inaugural Critical Mixed Race Studies conference at DePaul University. $15
From Vices to Verses: Featuring Voices Merging - From Vices to Verses: A New Era of Hip Hop and Action is a biannual conference held at the University of Minnesota. The goal is to promote the culture and history of hip-hop, which is often lost in the corporate mainstream representation. In this program, you'll see how the Voices Merging student group absorbed what they witnessed and how their experience will transform them as a group and as individuals. DVD copies come with 14 minutes of bonus footage not seen online or on TV. $15
Minnesota Machine: 2010 - Geared for Greatness - Join the professional women's football team in their historic 2nd season. Despite several injuries that depleted the roster, the Machine finished 2010 with a 6-3 record and their first division title in franchise history, edging the Iowa Thunder in the Midwest Division of the American Conference. This highlight reel includes clips from the 2010 season and their interview on the cable television show Rollin' and Tumblin' - $15
Silhouettes by RZI Couture - The inaugural breast cancer benefit fashion premiere took place in St. Paul and was met with a fabulous response. All the models were breast cancer survivors or relatives of someone affected by breast cancer and all the clothing was designed by Rosalyn Smaller, owner of RZI Couture and currently fighting breast cancer herself. The TV version features testimonials from the models and co-host Miss Georgia of KMOJ. $10 of every purchase will be donated to RZI Couture to help the breast cancer fight! $15