Taurasi leads Mercury over Shock
PHOENIX (AP) - The Phoenix Mercury are doing things differently under interim coach Russ Pennell and it's paying dividends.
Diana Taurasi had 20 points and seven assists, and the Mercury shut out Tulsa over a 10-minute stretch of the first half to earn their second straight win over the Shock, a 77-56 victory Sunday night that gave Pennell a second win in the three days since he took over.
"Our last two games I think it's been defense - that's the first time I have ever been able to say that," said Candice Dupree, who added 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists for the Mercury. "I guess it was a little raggedy in the first game against Tulsa, but we have had a couple of days to work on it and today we did a great job."
The Mercury earned just their third win in the last seven games. The Shock missed 15 straight shots during their scoreless stretch and Phoenix ran off 21 points in a row during that span to take control in the second quarter.
"I told the ladies at halftime, when you play defense like that when you really up your intensity and you are in the right position and that becomes a priority, you will have stretches like that," Pennell said.
Defense is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when talking about a team that scored at least 87 points a game for six straight years, until last season's injury-plagued summer.
But that has changed under Pennell, who has spent the bulk of career coaching men's college teams, including most recently the University of Arizona and Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
"When it's an emphasis, you have to do it," Taurasi said. "Every person in here is capable of doing it, played on high-caliber teams where if that is the emphasis, that's what you had to do. That's where we are at right now."
Liz Cambage had 19 points and six rebounds for Tulsa (7-17), which has lost four of its last five games.
"I just thought we really got tentative," Tulsa coach Gary Kloppenburg said. "We really weren't going anywhere. We were kind of dribbling side-to-side. We had, I think, four shot-clock violations. We just were not very aggressive, so I think they put us on our heels and I just didn't feel like we responded at all."
Glory Johnson, the Shock's leading scorer at 16 points a game, was not with the team Sunday after hitting the floor on Friday's night game.
The Mercury (12-11) set a league mark with 12 blocked shots in the first half and held Tulsa to a franchise-low four points in the second quarter.
Taurasi, the WNBA's leading scorer, became the sixth player in league history to score 6,000 points in her career, doing so in 291 games, the fastest ever.
Rookie Skylar Diggins added 19 points, including three 3-pointers, for the Shock.
"You just want to finish with a sense of pride," Diggins said. "You want to go down swinging. The second quarter is when they made their run and we couldn't put the ball in the basket. Other than that, we played them pretty evenly."
Phoenix beat the Shock 70-67 Friday.
DeWanna Bonner scored 21 points for the Mercury and Brittney Griner finished with nine points, five rebounds and six blocks, tying a franchise mark for blocked shots in a game before fouling out with 2:02 left.
Tulsa took a 12-10 lead with 3:53 left in the first quarter before Phoenix ran off the final eight points of the period. Griner, the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, had five blocks in eight minutes during the quarter. She sat out Friday's game after landing awkwardly on her ankle in the previous game.
The Mercury then ran off 11 points in the second quarter to take a 31-12 lead with 3:49 remaining until halftime. Tulsa could only manage short shots by Cambage and Courtney Paris in the period and trailed 40-16 at the break.
"As long we can continue to do that, I don't see why we can't keep winning games," Dupree said.
The four second-quarter points were the least scored in a quarter in Shock history and the fewest given up by Mercury in franchise history. It tied the league mark for the second fewest in a quarter.
"I told them they spoiled me because I have footage now that proves they can do it," Pennell said of the defense. "We may watch that over and over and over, but I was real pleased with the intensity."
Pennell took over on Thursday after the Mercury fired coach and general manager Corey Gaines following a five-year run that included the 2009 WNBA title.
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