Nicky Anosike, the 6-3 rookie center for the Lynx, has a simple philosophy about playing defense: Get back what is yours -- and she lives it.

Anosike has obliterated the team single-season record for steals with 73, or 20 more than guard Betty Lennox had in 2000.

She is averaging 2.28 steals per game, the second most in the WNBA with one game left.

On Friday, Anosike scored six points and had eight rebounds but no steals as the Lynx lost to Phoenix 96-87 at the Target Center before an announced crowd of 8,343.

Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, the league's top two scorers, had 31 and 23 points, respectively, for the Mercury (16-17). Lindsey Harding had a season-high 20 for the Lynx (15-18) while Charde Houston had 19 points and nine rebounds.

This was not Anosike's best game; she was only 3-for-11 from the field, but the Lynx are thrilled with her overall.

"Oh my gosh, I don't know what we would have done without her," said Lynx assistant Jennifer Gillom.

After starting on back-to-back NCAA championship teams at Tennessee, she has quickly become a key Lynx cog. Anosike leads the team in rebounding (6.7 per game), and blocks (1.22) in addition to steals.

Lynx staff have nominated Anosike for Defensive Player of the Year.

Anosike, the team's third-leading scorer averaging 9.2 points, was unsure what to expect in the pro game: "I did not know the WNBA and was not familiar with the personnel the Lynx had. But I started the first three exhibition games ... "

And every regular-season game since.

"Every night you really have to prepare; it's like playing in a Final Four," Anosike said. "I kind of expected that part. The part I did not expect was the size of my role on the team."

She averages 27 minutes, the third most among the Lynx, and probably would play more except for early foul trouble too often. "They are not used to a 6-3 center trying to play aggressively," she said of the referees. "It's funny to me."

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt describes Anosike as a fierce competitor, confident yet unselfish. "[Anosike] is a winner through and through," Summitt said. "Look at her in the classroom; she had three different degrees. She is driven to be a success in all aspects of life. Someday she will a lawyer or a judge."

Or the Defensive Player of the Year.