Katie Smith has found the fountain of youth.
Well, at least for one night.
The 37-year-old guard scored 26 points, 12 of which came in the first quarter as the Seattle Storm defeated the Phoenix Mercury 85-70 in front of the KeyArena crowd of 9,686 on Friday.
With the win, the Storm clinch the No.2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, which means home-court advantage in the first round. Seattle begins defense of its championship at 7 p.m. next Thursday against this same Mercury team at KeyArena.
“This is it,” Smith said. “We wanted to be at home. Our record shows that being at home is big for us. We didn’t want to go to their place twice. It was a huge game for us. It was like a playoff game.”
The Storm are 14-2 at home this season with one game at KeyArena remaining, but just 6-11 on the road.
Smith and Mercury guard Diana Taurasi got into an old-fashioned shootout in the first half. Smith got the better end of it in the first quarter, making all four of her field-goal attempts and finishing the period with 12 points, leading the Storm to a 21-15 advantage.
The second quarter belonged to Taurasi. She had eight points in the first quarter, but made six of the seven shots she took in the second stanza finishing the first half with 28 points. Taurasi’s total was just three shy of Cynthia Cooper’s WNBA record for points in a half.
“Sometime you just get going and they go in,” Taurasi said. “I was getting in good spots and they were going in.”
Storm head coach Brian Agler saw problems with how his team played Taurasi in the first half.
“I just thought we played a little bit passive with her,” Agler said. “We gave her too much space. We changed a few things up at halftime, but not really anything that I thought should have bothered her a whole lot, just gave her a different look. “
The Mercury led 41-35 at intermission. But if it wasn’t for Smith the Storm might have been out of it.
“She kept us going there in the first half,” Agler said.
In the third quarter, the veteran Smith put the Storm on her shoulders once more. She knocked down three 3s in the period and scored 11 points as the Storm rebounded from a nine-point deficit to take a 58-56 lead going into the final quarter.
“I got some good looks and tried to be aggressive and we all just kind of took care of business,” Smith said.
Smith finished the game just two points shy of 6,000 for her WNBA career.
Always trying to get her teammates involved, point guard Sue Bird recognized Smith’s hot-hand.
“You could tell that she was just kind of in a little bit of a comfort zone,” Bird said. “In my head, I was thinking ‘we should milk it.’ She was feeling good out there and I tried to get her the ball as much as possible and I think everyone was really looking for her.”
Not only did Smith get the job done on the offensive end, her defense on Taurasi was stellar. Smith held Taurasi to just eight points in the second half and no field goals until late in the fourth quarter.
“I thought tonight she was our most solid defender on Taurasi,” Agler said. “Not that Tanisha (Wright) didn’t do a good job, it was just Tanisha got in foul trouble and we couldn’t play her there. Katie had obviously her best game since she’s been here at the biggest time.”
Taurasi finished the game with 36 points, 10 more than Smith, but there was no doubt who won the overall battle.
“I had to let her know, ‘c’mon now you’re still the baby in all of this,’” Smith joked of the younger Taurasi.
While Smith and Taurasi were lighting up the scoresheet, the Mercury were doing an outstanding job on the reigning WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson. Jackson was scoreless for the first three quarters and finished the game with just four points on 1-for-5 shooting.
Luckily for the Storm, Smith and others picked up the slack. Wright scored a quiet 18 points, while Bird scored 13 of her 15 points in the second half.
Mercury all-star forward Penny Taylor did not play because of injury, Candice Dupree was Taurasi’s biggest help offensively, scoring 12 points.