Fourteen years ago, a rivalry now overflowing with mutual respect took root in the first game that mattered between Alana Beard of Duke and Diana Taurasi of Connecticut, then college juniors and acquaintances since ninth grade.
Fast-forward, dozens of duels later, to Tuesday night at Staples Center. Moments after the Sparks’ Beard accepted the award for WNBA defensive player of the year, she and Phoenix’s Taurasi squared off again, this time in the first game of a best-of-five semifinal series.
Beard induced an airball on Taurasi’s first shot, a harbinger of the Sparks’ 79-66 triumph over the Mercury.
Mostly matched up against Taurasi, Beard helped limit her to six...