The surprise starter altered the trajectory of a WNBA playoffs semifinal.
PHOENIX — Among the various paths one could theoretically take to the WNBA semifinals, perhaps no one could match the circuity of Yvonne “Vonnie” Turner.
After the Omaha native finished her collegiate career at the University of Nebraska, she’s played professional basketball in 10 different countries on five different continents, all before getting her shot back in the WNBA.
The list of countries she’s played in, according to an Arizona Republic article from last year: Australia, Germany, Russia, Dubai, Spain, Ecuador, Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and now, the Unites States.
But yet, at 30 years old, the 5’10 guard has found a fitting role in her second year with the Phoenix Mercury, and has stepped up right when Phoenix needed her most.
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Down 2-0 in the WNBA semifinals, Turner started for the injured Stephanie Talbot (concussion) and was brilliant, tallying 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals to keep the Mercury’s season alive with an 86-66 win over the Seattle Storm on Friday night.
“The thing about the WNBA is you always have to stay ready whether you play one minute or 40 minutes,” Turner said. “I just always make sure I’m doing what I need to do, always knowing what our schemes are and when I have to step up, I need to step up. I did that tonight on the defensive end for my team.”
Turner’s primary responsibility was to guard Sue Bird, who went scoreless on the night, doing so for just the second time in her WNBA playoff career. Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello felt confident in Turner based on a Thursday conversation, when Brondello told Turner that she’d be starting.
“She’s played at times like this, but just chatting to her last night, I knew she was ready,” Brondello said. “We had Steph (Talbot) on Sue (Bird), but Vonnie has more athleticism. That helped us. It allowed us to play better defensively. She did a great job on Sue.”
That defensive effort from Turner helped hold Seattle to their second-lowest point total of 2018, something that forward Breanna Stewart noticed.
“Her aggressiveness [was impactful], especially a player who’s able to pick up full court like that,” Stewart said. “She got a few steals, and she got into our guards as they were trying to bring the ball up and made it tougher to run our sets. Even if we’re trying to push the ball, she’s stopping the ball early and making us slow down a bit.”
The three-guard look matched up very well with Seattle’s smaller starting unit on the night, allowing Phoenix to have more defensive versatility. But throughout the season, Turner has found herself to be a defensive sparkplug off the bench, a player who DeWanna Bonner says gives her teammates an extra boost when she checks into the game.
“All year long, when Vonnie got into the game, it was just like, ‘Get the ball and go. Don’t stop, because nobody can stop you,’” Bonner said, “She’s the fastest person out there. On defense, she brings that energy, that fire. She picks up full court. It’s good to see and it’s good to feed off of her as her teammate.”
Last season, in the first round game against the Storm, during scored 15 points of 5-of-7 shooting and added four rebounds in 30 minutes to help the Mercury advance with a 79-69 win. But even with that game in her past, Brondello believes that Friday’s night game was the best Turner has played in the WNBA.
“Yeah, I think so,” Brondello said. “She’s comfortable. We try and give her a lot of confidence just to play [her] game. Don’t overthink it. She locked in defensively for what we needed her to do.”
Turner added, “It’s just my game. I know, personally, my biggest strength is defense, so I brought that for my team tonight. And then when I was open, they told me to shoot the ball.”
Though you can expect the defense to carry over, it’s tough to know if Turner can bring the same shooting touch to Game 4 at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT on Sunday. But Bonner had already tried to get her focused on the tasks that remain ahead, even after such a stellar Game 3.
“I’m so proud of her, but she knows that I’ve already told her, ‘Alright, that 40 minutes is over, and the next one you have to be even better,’” Bonner said.
But with how long it took her to be in this situation — starting and starring in a WNBA semifinal game — you can bet that Vonnie Turner is not a player who will take this chance for granted.