Mercury HC Nygaard’s first win marks new era in Phoenix

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

It took a game to shake off the rust, but the Mercury showed the spark it lacked on Opening Night to defeat the Storm, 97-77.

“We definitely improved in that area,” head coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “With new people coming in, sort of feeling each other out…We evolved through the game and picked up our intensity when we needed to.”

The franchise’s first win of the season also marks Nygaard’s first as a head coach.

“Definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was just good to have some success,” Nygaard said. “We had a lot of offensive firepower and I thought our defense was better.”

Phoenix started out scrapping and set the tone that the team wanted to win this for Nygaard.

“To finally get a WNBA win is pretty amazing,” superstar Diana Taurasi said. “I could just remember our first WNBA wins – it sticks in your mind for a long time. She’s learning a lot. We’re learning her…Hopefully it’s one of many.”

The Mercury outscored the Storm 44-26 in the paint and converted 16 Seattle turnovers into 34 points.

Phoenix’s roster showed out with nine players scoring, including five in double-figures.

How far this team will go will come down to its Big Three: Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Tina Charles.

The trio combined for 56 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists on 54% shooting, but as Nygaard has preached, Charles is the focal point of the offense.

“D and I before practice, we’re able to get together,” Charles said. “We’re able to work on our two-man game…She’s always gonna put me in possessions and everyone else…I know she has high standards for me. I think it’s gonna elevate my game this season – knowing that she believes in me and that she’s counting on me.”

Everyone knows what Taurasi can do as a scorer, but she’s shown her skills as a facilitator alongside Diggins-Smith this season, averaging almost seven assists through the first couple contests.

“She really understands so much of the game and she’s a tremendous passer,” Nygaard said. “She has continued to be effective in different ways throughout her career and I’m just looking for that to grow even more this year.”

After all, with Diamond DeShields’ and Brianna Turner’s returns, this is the first time we got to see what kind of depth the Mercury will be working with this year.

“We made progress because we had most of our players except BG,” Nygaard said. “The rotation, I felt, was a lot cleaner. That will continue to evolve as people get more comfortable with their roles.”

Phoenix heads to Seattle next where they’ll have a quick rematch with the Storm on Saturday at Noon.