Fever-Mercury Preview

The Associated Press

Interim coach Russ Pennell has brought a renewed defensive focus to the Phoenix Mercury, and the early results have been encouraging.

He'll try to guide the Mercury to a third straight victory since taking over Wednesday night against the visiting Indiana Fever.

A 2-7 stretch spurred Phoenix (12-11) to fire coach and general manager Corey Gaines last Thursday and hire Pennell. The Mercury then claimed back-to-back home wins over Tulsa, 77-56 on Sunday after a 70-67 victory on Friday.

Phoenix registered 13 blocks Sunday, including a WNBA-record 12 in the first half. Brittney Griner blocked six shots to tie a franchise record while also adding nine points in 21 minutes after missing Friday's game with an ankle injury.

The Mercury held the Shock scoreless during a 10-minute stretch in the first half, forcing them to miss 15 straight shots and outscoring them 22-4 in the second quarter.

"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 had 20 points in each game against the Shock.

Phoenix's league-worst defense had allowed an average of 84.7 points in the previous 21 games.

"When it's an emphasis, you have to do it," said Diana Taurasi, who scored 20 points while becoming the fastest player in WNBA history to reach the 6,000-point mark. "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."

The Fever (11-11) have won three of four, as well as four of five away from home as they begin a trip with three games in four days.

Shavonte Zellous remains day-to-day with plantar fasciitis after becoming the ninth Indiana player to miss action due to injury in Saturday's 80-66 home win over Atlanta.

Despite being without the first-time All-Star, the Fever were 8 of 14 from 3-point range, getting a career-high five 3-pointers from Erin Phillips in her first start of the season as they pulled within 1 1/2 games of Atlanta for second place in the Eastern Conference.

Indiana was 1 for 9 from long range in a 74-64 loss to Los Angeles on Thursday.

"We just got better shots and we were ready to knock them down," coach Lin Dunn said. "We practiced yesterday (Friday) for the first time in a whole week, because we had so many games, we would play, travel and rest (and not have time to practice)."

The Fever had won five of six in the series before Taurasi scored 26 in Phoenix's 82-67 win at Indiana on June 8. Bonner added a season-high 24 points and 11 rebounds. The Mercury claimed a 42-30 rebounding advantage despite being without Griner, who didn't play due to a knee injury.

Zellous led Indiana with a career-high 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting.

A Mercury victory would give them their first season sweep since 2007.

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