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Taurasi rains on farewell parade for Appel-Marinelli, Hughes

Diana Taurasi made a statement to the rest of the WNBA playoff teams in the first half of the Phoenix Mercury’s last regular season game, scoring all 18 points in the first half of the team’s 81-65 win over the San Antonio Stars.

Chris Poss - Swish Appeal

San Antonio, TX — Facing the home crowd at the AT&T Center for the last time, center Jayne Appel-Marinelli and longtime head coach Dan Hughes, hoped to savor the moment and turn it into a final win for the last- place San Antonio Stars.

No one relayed the message to Diana Taurasi.

Taurasi scored all of her team-high 18 points in the first half, while Brittney Griner added 15 points to go along with seven rebounds to lead the Phoenix Mercury (16-18) to an 81-65 quarter win over the Stars (7-27) on Sunday, in what was also the final game for Mercury guard Penny Taylor, who is hanging up the laces as well.

This game was an emotional one for Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello, who is close with all three retiring individuals.

“I’m very grateful for Dan because he gave me my first opportunity to coach (she was hired as an assistant in San Antonio in 2005), and he allowed me to grow as a coach,” Brondello said. “We’ll be friends forever, and you know Jane, she’s just the ultimate professional.

“Players like Penny, they know when they need to retire, and obviously, they’re both going to go on and do great things in their next career, whatever it may be, but just all three are quality people.”

The first quarter started off going back and forth, with San Antonio’s Monique Currie seeming to get the upper hand by scoring four quick points. However, just as fast as Currie scored, Phoenix came back. Taurasi scored eight of the first 13 Mercury points, and the Mercury jumped out to a 22-8 lead before San Antonio came back with jumpers from Haley Peters and Moriah Jefferson to end the first quarter.

Hoping to send off Appel-Marinelli and Hughes into the Texas sunset with a final victory, the Stars came out the gate swinging in the second quarter, scoring the first eight points of the frame to bring themselves within three, 35-32. The three-point margin was the closest San Antonio would get in the game, however; as Phoenix went on a 10-1 run to end the second quarter and go into halftime with a 45-33 lead.

San Antonio came into the third quarter with their A-game, scoring the first points with a quick three-pointer from Jazmon Gwathmey. The Stars and Mercury traded baskets back and forth for a while, with San Antonio took the scoring advantage in the third. Even with the 25-point outburst, though, the Stars trailed 67-58 going into the final frame.

With the last quarter of the regular season upon them, Griner decided to take matters into her own hands for Phoenix. Griner unleashed a monster quarter, scoring seven of the team’s final 14 points while the defense held San Antonio without a basket for the first four and a half minutes.

Astou Ndour finally ended the scoring drought for San Antonio, turning a Jefferson assist into a three-pointer, bringing San Antonio within 15 points, 76-61.

However, by then the damage had already been done; San Antonio would only muster four free throws the rest of the quarter, the last coming from Jefferson with 3:03 left on the clock. The Stars missed their final four shots to tie their worst regular season mark in the team’s history (the also went 7-27 in 2005, as the Silver Stars).

Griner, even with her fantastic game, heaped an enormous amount of praise for this young San Antonio team.

“They’ve got really good guards on the perimeter, really quick, really crafty,” Griner said. “Moriah (Jefferson) is one of the best coming off the ball screen, breaking you down or getting to the basket. What the future holds for them? I don’t know, but they’re going to be good, though.”

For Phoenix, this serves as a welcome win for the team. They will face the fifth-seeded Indiana Fever as the eight-seed on Wednesday night in the first round of the playoffs. As for San Antonio, they will now sit and be spectators for the second straight postseason after being swept in the 2014 Western Conference Semifinals by the Minnesota Lynx.

The loss also serves as a bittersweet farewell for Jayne-Appel Marinelli, who is retiring after seven seasons in the league; and for head coach/longtime general manager Dan Hughes, who had served as either position or concurrent since 2005.

For Appel-Marinelli, the retirement seems surreal, but she is confident in what she see for her old team’s future, and still plans on working with the team in some aspect.

“I’ll be back and forth, and it’s pretty cool that I’ve only played for the Stars, so I’ll only be loyal to the Stars,” Appel-Marinelli said. “I’ll still see my influence a little bit hopefully next year and in the years to come, and I’m excited.”

Hughes, who had a huge hand in the Stars’ past success and laid the groundwork for the future, leaves on a positive note, and feels like San Antonio is on the right path with Jefferson as a future centerpiece.

“I think she (Jefferson) should get rookie of the year, and that should be a shared thing, but that’s a piece of the future,” Hughes said. “(Next season) you get Kayla McBride back, you get the evolution of Danielle Robinson back, you get some of these players that got experience this year.

“And I know that the lottery is coming up. I just pray they get a break in the lottery. That they get what we deserve, and that’s finally a first round pick - first pick in the draft.”