Phoenix is center of WNBA universe

"Since then, we've turned it around. We're trying to get back to the top. It feels like a long time [since the 2009 title], especially because the WNBA season is just four to five months, so when it's over you have a lot of time to think about it."

Corey Gaines, who was coach of the Mercury for their 2009 title, was fired last August and replaced for the rest of the season by Russ Pennell. Then, Sandy Brondello, a former WNBA player who had a previous stint as a head coach in San Antonio, took over the Mercury for 2014.

Dupree said she thinks Brondello has been one of the biggest factors in Phoenix's surge this year.

"We've always had the players to get it done," said Dupree, who is in her ninth WNBA season and is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. "But we weren't necessarily put together the right way to win. Sandy has done a good job of putting people in position to succeed, playing them to their strengths.

"And she's also implemented defense. I feel really comfortable this year. The only thing Sandy has to tell me before every game is to be aggressive. Lots of teams switch [defenders] with ball screens with me and Diana, but that works to our advantage."

Indeed, because both players are so versatile and can burn defenders in different ways. The same can be said for Taylor and Bonner. Then, there's the 6-foot-8 center Griner, who has benefited from Taurasi saying to her, "I'm going to feed off you."

The veteran insisting that the second-year pro needed to be a leader? Yes, that's exactly what Taurasi did.

"I said, 'I've been here for 10 years. Now, it's your turn. When games get hard, when there's tough times during the season, we're going to have to look to you. Your growing-up gap just shut. It's time to do it.'

"She's the type of kid that needs challenges. When you challenge her, she goes to a different level."

And that's what the Mercury as a team have done so far. Three of Phoenix's players will be taking part in the All-Star Game, but the spirit of the entire squad and their delighted fans will fill US Airways Arena on Saturday.

"It's been one of those seasons where after every game, we just want to get back at it," Taurasi said. "After every practice, we want to get back in the gym to see each other.

"I'm sure if you spoke to anyone who's played in this league a long time, they'll tell you there are seasons where after a game, you're like, 'I don't know if I can do this much longer.' We don't have that weight this year. And the people here are really excited. [Saturday], it's going to be a pretty cool scene in here."

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