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Taurasi, Smith lead Mercury in sweep of Silver Stars

SAN ANTONIO -- The defending champion Phoenix Mercury made quick work of the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Diana Taurasi scored 23 points and Tangela Smith added 16 as the Mercury jumped to a 19-point lead in the first quarter and beat the Silver Stars 92-73 Saturday, completing a sweep of their Western Conference semifinals series.

Phoenix has eliminated San Antonio from the playoffs three times in four years. The previous two times -- 2007 and 2009 -- the Mercury went on to win the WNBA championship.

"We're hoping it's a trend that continues," said Phoenix's Penny Taylor, who had 12 points and 12 assists.

The Mercury will face the Storm in the conference finals, beginning Thursday night at Seattle. The Storm, who were a league-best 28-6 in the regular season, beat Los Angeles 81-66 to sweep their series. Seattle won all five meetings with Phoenix during the season.

Unlike Game 1, in which the Mercury gradually but steadily pulled away, this was a rout from the outset. Phoenix led 21-2 less than 6 minutes in, and Taurasi and Smith totaled 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting to help the Mercury build a 30-15 lead after the first quarter.

"Our defense, in the beginning, really took them out of their sets," Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. "It left them with shots that gave us fast breaks, and that's what we live on."

Becky Hammon led the Silver Stars with 21 points and seven assists. Sophia Young had 15 points and Ruth Riley added 13.

The undersized Silver Stars frequently found themselves in physical mismatches, particularly early in the game. On Phoenix's first possession, a defensive switch left 5-foot-6 Hammon on the 6-3 Smith.

"That's just the way they play," first-year Silver Stars coach Sandy Brondello said. "They do things 100 percent: they cut, they move the ball, they find the mismatches. They overpowered us, particularly in that first half.

"This is a championship team from last year. They're without Cappie Pondexter, but they've added a player in Candice Dupree that really fits their style. She has that mobility and she was a really hard guard for us."

Dupree, the Game 1 star with 32 points, scored 13 of her 19 points in the second half, and also grabbed 11 rebounds. The Mercury shot 53 percent from the field and assisted on 25 of their 37 baskets.

The Silver Stars did not hit their second field goal until the 4-minute mark of the first period, when Hammon made a 3-pointer to make it 21-5.

"We beat ourselves early, and then when you're just fighting you have to have everything go right," said Hammon, who led the Silver Stars with 21 points. "You can't miss shots. There's just no margin for error."

San Antonio, hampered by the late-season loss of Chamique Holdsclaw because of a torn Achilles' tendon, was 5 of 17 from the field in the opening quarter and finished 27 for 72 (38 percent).

"That first quarter I don't really know why we came out flat," Hammon said. "I don't understand that. And then we were just fighting the rest of the game to get back within striking distance."

San Antonio trailed 48-30 at halftime, but even with a 19-8 run bridging the third and fourth quarters, the Silver Stars got no closer than 12 the rest of the way.

"You can't shoot 38 percent and beat Phoenix, I don't care who you are," Hammon said. "You're missing a lot of shots, which just initiates their transition. In a run-and-gun, they're at their best."