This Week in the WNBA
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate Basketball Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Shaquille O'Neal once held the Maricopa County sheriff posse badge in Maricopa County, but that time has come and gone and there is a new sheriff in town.
Brittney Griner set a new WNBA record, as she blocked 11 shots on Sunday for Phoenix to lead the Mercury to an 80-77 victory over Tulsa. The 6-foot-8 center's dominance on the interior as of late has helped Phoenix win five games in a row to improve the team's record to a league-best 11-3.
The Mercury moved ahead of Minnesota in the Western Conference race with their eighth triumph in their past 10 games. Griner also tallied 21 points and eight rebounds, while Diana Taurasi posted 14 points and eight assists in Sunday's contest.
Phoenix, which leads the WNBA in scoring at 85 ppg, assisted on 15 of its 25 made field goals on Sunday and did a nice job defensively on Shock star guard Skylar Diggins, who went just 2-of-17 from the floor.
Minnesota avenged the 81-71 loss to Seattle it suffered on Friday with a 74-69 decision at home over the Storm on Sunday despite the absence of second- leading scorer Seimone Augustus, who sat out due to bursitis in her left knee.
Janel McCarville stepped up her play en route to a season-high 22 points and Maya Moore contributed across the board with 14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and a career-best four rejections. McCarville had just four points on 2-of-10 efficiency from the field in Friday's loss in Seattle before exploding at home, where the Lynx are now 6-1 on the season.
"What I appreciate out of her was the way she bounced back, not hanging her head because it didn't happen in Seattle," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said of McCarville's play in Seattle on Friday versus her game on Sunday. "Making sure she made them pay tonight."
Only 26 of Minnesota's 74 points came in the paint on Sunday night. The Lynx allowed Seattle's Camille Little to pour in 31 points on Friday, but made it a priority to stifle the 6-foot-2 forward on Sunday. Little produced only six points in the back end of the home-and-home series, while veteran guard Sue Bird kept the Storm in the game with 21 points and seven assists.
Seattle ended the week in last place in the Western Conference standings, six games back of Phoenix.
Los Angeles climbed out of the cellar with an eight-point win over the Storm on Tuesday which it followed with a 92-89 overtime victory at Tulsa on Saturday. Nneka Ogwumike provided 22 points against the Shock to pace the Sparks, who came out on top despite blowing a 15-point second-half lead. Los Angeles has won three of four games since losing four in a row.
The San Antonio Stars climbed back to the .500 mark on Sunday with a 73-65 decision in the nation's capital. Becky Hammon led five Stars in double-figures with 17 points and Danielle Robinson was impressive as well, finishing with 15 points, five assists and three steals.
"I just wanted to be aggressive and I've always loved shooting in this gym," Hammon said of Washington's Verizon Center. "I don't know. It must be the lighting. There a few gyms you really like to play in. This is just one of them for me."
Atlanta is the only team in the Eastern Conference with a winning record. The Dream, who have been swept out of the WNBA Finals three times in the last four years, earned their eighth win in nine outings on Sunday, as they downed Indiana, 76-68, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Coach Michael Cooper's defensive- minded philosophy was apparent down the stretch as the Fever managed to score only 13 points in the final quarter of Sunday's tilt.
"Indiana always plays you tough," Cooper said after his team battled. "They gave us all we could handle."
Angel McCoughtry continued to shine as she recorded 12 of her 20 points after halftime for Atlanta. McCoughtry is ranked third behind Moore and Diggins on the WNBA's scoring leaderboard with just over 20 ppg, making her the only player in the Eastern Conference to appear in the league's top five.
McCoughtry's solid play out of the backcourt has been accompanied by the solid inside play of Erika de Souza, who registered her fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 13 boards versus the Fever, who have lost four straight and to plummet into a fifth-place position in the Eastern Conference standings.
After winning seven out of eight games, Connecticut has begun to slip. The Sun lost both installments of their two-game road trip over the weekend, as they came up short against the Mystics (69-63) and Liberty (67-65).
Connecticut's star rookie Chiney Ogwumike was bottled up by Washington, who limited her to just 10 points on six field goal tries, but she nearly carried the Sun over New York on Sunday with a monster double-double of 22 points and 17 rebounds.
Chicago finally took a step in the right direction on Friday, defeating New York, 73-69, in the Big Apple. Epiphanny Prince knocked down 5-of-7 attempts from beyond the arc and sank all seven of her free-throw attempts to finish with 30 points for the Sky, who once again played without Elena Delle Donne.
The WNBA's reigning Rookie of the Year returned to action on Wednesday after missing five games due to her ongoing struggle with Lyme disease and scored 13 points in the loss, but she returned home to Delaware to recover because she was not feeling well after the game.
New York's Cappie Pondexter was held scoreless in the loss to Chicago before tying Tina Charles for the team-high with 14 points on Sunday.
1. Phoenix (11-3) 2. Atlanta (11-4) 3. Minnesota (12-5) 4. Connecticut (8-8) 5. San Antonio (8-8) 6. Los Angeles (6-8) 7. Chicago (7-8) 8. Seattle (7-11) 9. Tulsa (6-9) 10.Washington (7-10) 11. New York (5-11) 12. Indiana (6-9)
THIS WEEK'S KEY MATCHUPS:
Tuesday, July 1:
Tulsa at New York - The up-and-down Liberty will begin July with a tough home test as Diggins and company visit Madison Square Garden. The Shock nearly took down Phoenix despite Griner's record-setting defensive performance on Sunday, while New York is coming off of an impressive victory over the Sun. Pondexter will have to be a consistent contributor on the offensive end to keep the Liberty's playoff hopes alive.
Thursday, July 3:
San Antonio at Minnesota - San Antonio's balanced attack is capable of giving the opposition fits on any given night since it is hard to predict who the Stars will turn to offensively. Minnesota will continue to rely on Moore until Augustus is back to 100 percent, but the Lynx will also need McCarville and Lindsay Whalen to stay active on the offensive end to support the WNBA's most dominant scorer.
Sunday, July 6:
Phoenix at Los Angeles - The Mercury's goal of supplanting Minnesota as the WNBA's elite squad is quickly becoming a reality. Griner will really be tested on Sunday as she goes head-to-head with the Sparks' forward duo of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. Taurasi will also be challenged in the City of Angels as she tangles with the Sparks' backcourt which is comprised of veteran Alana Beard, Jantel Lavender and Kristi Toliver.
06/30 08:08:26 ET