Commentary

Leading roles come naturally for Smith, Taurasi

Updated: September 4, 2007, 12:14 PM ET
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

Cocky or confident? It doesn't matter. Because wherever Detroit's Katie Smith and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi have played, it's no coincidence success has followed. They are natural-born leaders, and that's demonstrated both by how they play and what they say. And for as exciting as the WNBA Finals will be, and for as many talented athletes that it will feature, I can't help but look forward most to these two and their wit and confidence clashing on the court.

Smith and Taurasi are both tough competitors who aren't afraid of getting after each other. They are multi-talented players who have won on multiple levels -- they were even teammates on the gold-medal winning U.S. women's team at the 2004 Sydney Olympics. Starting Wednesday in the WNBA Finals (ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. ET), they'll be on opposite sides. And aren't we in for a treat?

LEADERS OF THE PACK
Katie Smith
KATIE SMITH, SHOCK
5-11 guard, 33 years old (Ohio State, '96)
Diana Taurasi
DIANA TAURASI, MERCURY
6-0 guard, 25 years old (UConn, '04)
In one word? Warrior (Younger) Warrior
One word to sum up this season? Struggle (shooting a career-low 36 percent from the field and 31 percent on treys) Miracle (helped Mercury make first playoff appearance since 2000)
Favorite clutch memory? She scored the last six points of the decisive Game 5 in the WNBA Finals last season, including a 17-footer with 14.8 seconds left after she spun around to get loose from a defender, to seal Detroit's second title (the Shock defeated Sacramento 80-75) With the NCAA crown on the line versus Oklahoma in the 2002 title game and seniors Sue Bird, Asjha Jones, Swin Cash and Tamika Williams as options, UConn coach Geno Auriemma calls a play for the sophomore Taurasi -- who makes it and converts a three-point play
Better ballhandler? She's a natural 2-3 She's a natural 1-2
Better shooter? Nobody has scored more points in history of women's pro basketball ... ... but she has better range
Who gets to take the game-winning shot? No matter which player you pick here ... ... it's a win-win situation
Consummate leader Nobody is more experienced -- she has played 14 years with USA Basketball, and battled (and won) on every level Who else could have four new starters in the lineup beside her, including two freshmen and a sophomore, and win an NCAA title
Who's more versatile? Can play four positions Can play four positions
All-WNBA First Team Two Two
WNBA All-Star nods Six Three
WNBA titles One None -- yet
Olympic gold medals Two One
ABL titles Two Uh, she was in high school
NCAA titles None Three
Final Four appearances One (1993) Four (2001-04)

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.