By: Kayla Mortellaro
PHOENIX— The Phoenix Mercury were out-hustled, out-matched, and ultimately out-played by the Indiana Fever Sunday afternoon.
The final buzzer sounded and the score read 75-63 in favor of Indiana, but in front of 11,336 fans at US Airways Center, and a national television audience on ESPN2; the game was never that close, and the Mercury had no answers for the Fever.
“Disappointed, just think we didn’t give our best effort tonight and I think it really came from how we’ve been practicing the last few days,” head coach Sandy Brondello said after the game. “A little fatigue sinking in and we’ve got to be able to fight through that. We knew what Indiana does, and they were the aggressor and the aggressor always plays better.”
For the Fever, Lynetta Kizer led the way with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting. All-star forward Tamika Catchings was held to just four points on 2-of-11 shooting, but the Fever’s bench combined to score 26 points. For most of the third and fourth quarter, Indiana’s lead was 20 points or more.
“I just challenge our team at halftime to not let up,” Fever head coach Stephanie White said. “It’s zero to zero and we play one possession, each possession, every 24 seconds. We play every possession with the same urgency that we played with in the first half. To play in an environment like this, it doesn’t matter how much they [Mercury] are down, they can come back. We made sure that didn’t happen because of our intensity and because of our attention to detail.”
Indiana was more physical all game long, out-rebounding the Mercury 37-33. The Fever also played at a quicker pace, capitalizing on 13 fast-break points. Ultimately, the Fever just controlled the tempo and flow of the game.
Candice Dupree and Brittney Griner were the leading point scorers for the Mercury with 12 points a piece. Dupree added seven rebounds, while Griner hauled in six boards, and had three blocked shots. DeWanna Bonner had an off-game, going 2-for-9 from the floor for nine points.
But even more glaring on the stat sheet, as a team, the Mercury went 0-for-13 from behind the arc and shot 38.3 percent from the floor compared to the Fever’s 44.3 percent.
“They had wide open shots,” Brondello said when asked about the Mercury shooting so many three’s. “If they are open, they have to shoot it. You have to prepare to shoot, you have to have confidence in shooting it. We make some of those shots, it changes everything a little bit.”
Leilani Mitchell, once leading the league at 50 percent from behind the arc, has cooled off from downtown. Sunday afternoon, she went 0-for-3, and is now three for her last 21 three point attempts.
The last third of the schedule is grueling as the Mercury have 12 games in the month of August, with it split six games at home and six games on the road. But Dupree knows the schedule can not be an excuse for the team’s lack of hustle and aggressive play.
“At this point in the season, I’m sure every team is tired,” Dupree said. “She [Sandy Brondello] does a good job of monitoring minutes and giving us days off. We can’t use being tired as an excuse. Mentally, individually, everybody is different, you know. But we’ve got to be mentally tougher in order to win these games.”
One bright spot for the Mercury has been the bench play of Mistie Bass. Bass had 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including two rebounds and one blocked shot in nearly 14 minutes of play. Bass turned in her second consecutive solid performance as she came off a game against Seattle in which she had nine points and 10 boards.
Despite the loss, the Mercury are still in the playoff picture holding a firm grasp of second place in the Western Conference, 2.5 games behind the first place Minnesota Lynx and 4.5 games ahead of the third place Tulsa Shock.
With 10 games left on the schedule, Coach Brondello knows the team has to put the disappointing loss behind them, refocus, and fight hard for the remainder of the season.
“It starts with practice, it starts with getting your rest, it starts with individual focus, holding yourself accountable,” Brondello said. “You gotta just stay on your front foot, gotta be the aggressor. And it’s staying together. Maybe, sometimes, a loss is as good as a win because it gets their attention, a little more attention to detail, and a little more focus heading in to the next game.”
The Mercury (15-9) will have a quick turn-around as they face the Shock (11-14) in a battle in the Western Conference on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Tulsa, Okla.