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Shock an appropriate name for first-place Tulsa

The Shock players were walking through the Tulsa airport after returning from Minneapolis last week and a few folks stopped along the way to tell them they had watched their win against the Lynx at the Target Center -- the toughest place to earn a road victory in the WNBA.

"People told us they were proud of us," guard Skylar Diggins said. "They are paying attention. I think we are impacting the attitude and the mood around the entire city of Tulsa right now."

Not to mention the impact the Shock are making in the standings in the first month of the WNBA season. Perhaps it's too easy to talk about the aptly-named Shock -- who moved to 8-1 with Sunday's win over Seattle -- as the surprise of the WNBA season thus far, because this team had young talent last year and endured a lot of close games. But most of them didn't come out in their favor.

"Last year, we could score with anybody, but there were stretches where we couldn't put together any stops. This year we are great at giving resistance. We are experienced at finishing games this year." Skylar Diggins on the Shock's 8-1 start

Tulsa finished the 2014 season with a 12-22 record, their best win total since the team moved to Oklahoma in 2010. Sixteen of their losses came by 10 points or less.

"Last year, we could score with anybody, but there were stretches where we couldn't put together any stops," Diggins said. "This year we are great at giving resistance. We are experienced at finishing games this year. We just compete."

In first place in the Western Conference after reeling off eight straight wins, the Shock are more than competing. They are setting the pace in the West with a team full of young stars and the key veteran additions of Plenette Pierson and Karima Christmas, who have won WNBA Championships.

Pierson won titles with the Detroit Shock in 2006 and 2008. Christmas won with Indiana in 2012. They brought a championship mentality to a franchise that craved it and embedded it quickly.

"This team has learned to value every possession," Pierson said. "They have learned to play every minute and the confidence is building."

Tulsa, which has not been to the WNBA playoffs since the team moved from Detroit six years ago, opened the season with a loss to Minnesota, the preseason favorite to win its third title in the past five seasons.

But the Shock have won eight straight games since, including the 86-78 victory at Minneapolis on June 21 that has to be viewed as a "statement" win, if one believes in such things. Eight games is the team's longest win streak since it moved to Tulsa and the franchise's longest since 2007.

"I don't know about statement wins," Pierson said. "Minnesota is a great team this year. And we see ourselves as a great team. I think it's a 'progress' win for us. We are doing what we said we are going to do."

Pierson's assertion that the Shock see themselves as a great team is telling for a group that hasn't yet made the playoffs together.

"It's definitely part of our mentality," Pierson said. "I believe that you can speak things in existence. But you always have to work at it."

The rewards for the work have come early.

Diggins is leading the way, averaging 17.8 points a game, and is coming off a season-high 31 against the Storm on Sunday. Four players are averaging in double figures, including Pierson (15.0 ppg) and Riquna Williams (12.8), who is back after missing much of last season with a knee injury.

Second-year guard Odyssey Sims has missed the last six games with a left-knee injury and her return date remains unknown. Amanda Zahui B, the rookie from Minnesota who was the second pick in the draft, is coming along, averaging 5.1 points and 3.3 rebounds a game, learning from experienced posts such as Pierson, Christmas and Courtney Paris.

"Everybody is a threat," Pierson said. "You can't take Skylar or Odyssey away. You have to guard all five players at the same time."

Ten Tulsa players are averaging at least 11 minutes a game. On Friday against New York, Tulsa, the league's second highest-scoring team behind Chicago, pulled out a win despite single-digit scoring nights from Diggins and Pierson and shooting a season-low 33 percent from the floor.

Coach Fred Williams called his team "resilient."

"Being in games in which you have leads, and pull them out, being in tight games and pulling them out," Williams said. "I call them the showdown games."

Diggins said the players have bought into Williams' system and they would "move a mountain for him."

"He believes in us," Diggins said.

Diggins said she learned a lot the past two years, seasons in which the Shock lost a whole lot more than they won.

"Everyone here came from a winning program (in college)," Diggins said. "That is what we are used to. Everybody here wants to be here. They are proud to put on the jersey and call this home. Nobody is looking at this as a pit stop.

"This is what we envisioned. (Pierson) says it every day. This is what she came here for, to be in a position to win a championship."

Diggins said she understands that becoming a championship team is a process, one that the Shock are still experiencing.

"It's not going to happen overnight, but we are making something out of what we've got," Diggins said. "People aren't going to mark us off as a loss anymore. Some people may think this is a fluke. We are not going to worry about that.

"When we started the season, they said the odds of us winning a title were 50-1. Dead last. That's something we keep in the back of our minds."