Dupree scores 18 points as Mercury beat Liberty 76-64 to clinch home-court edge in playoffs

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NEW YORK — The Phoenix Mercury made sure the WNBA's Western Conference has a new regular season champion for the first time in four years.

Candice Dupree had 18 points and 10 rebounds as Phoenix beat the New York Liberty 76-64 on Tuesday night, giving the Mercury the top seed in the West and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Still, the Mercury weren't in any hurry to pour champagne in the locker room after ending Minnesota's three-year reign atop the conference.

"No, we'll take just take the win," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. "Our goal was to come in and win. ... The magic number was one and we did that and we want to fight for it again."

As it turned out, Phoenix would have claimed the conference title anyway as the defending champion Lynx lost at home to Los Angeles later. Minnesota has clinched the No. 2 seed.

"We have good chemistry," Brondello said. "We have intelligent players, and good players, which certainly helps what we're doing. ... They buy into what we want to do, they play very hard and they're very unselfish. That's been the key."

Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner had 14 points each, and Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips added 11 apiece for Phoenix (27-4). Griner also had 11 rebounds and added three more blocks to increase her WNBA single-season record to 122.

Dupree moved into 20th place on the league's career scoring list with 4,247 points.

"That's really something," Dupree said. "It's hard to believe I've been in the league for nine years."

Tina Charles had 26 points and 12 rebounds to lead New York (13-18), which dropped to fifth place in the East — one game behind Chicago and Indiana for one of the last two playoff spots in the conference. However they face the Fever twice in their last three games.

"That's what New York is about, isn't it?" said the Liberty's Cappie Pondexter, who scored 12 points. "Gritting it out at the finish. Teams have gone on (in sports) to do that and win the whole thing."

Charles had 16 points in the first quarter to keep New York competitive early. The Liberty trailed 33-30 in the second quarter, before the Mercury scored the last 10 points of the half to take a 13-point lead at the break. Taurasi had five points and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota had a 3-pointer during the run.

"Tina's tough when she gets it going, so we had to throw the whole team at her," Taurasi said of containing the former UConn player.

After New York scored the first four points of the third quarter to pull to 43-34, Dupree had consecutive baskets to restore Phoenix's double-digit lead for good. New York got no closer than 12 points again. Dupree's layup made it 55-38 with 4:34 left in the third and her jumper gave them an 18-point lead — their biggest of the game — with 5:46 remaining in the fourth.

It was Griner's first game in the Garden as a pro after twice playing for Baylor in college in the Maggie Dixon Classic.

"It really isn't all that different," she said.

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who guided Charles and Taurasi in college, was at the game, in part to scout players competing on the FIBA World Championship squad he will coach.

The Mercury moved one win behind the league record of 28, set by Los Angeles in 2000 and 2001 — when the league played 32 games — and matched by Seattle in 2010.

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