Mercury must seize the moment to save its season

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Before the Mercury’s loss to the Storm on June 13th, it was sitting at 2-6 with a chance to get a much-needed win against a mediocre opponent.

Since then, Phoenix faced the difficult task of pulling out at least one victory against three of the league’s best teams: Mystics, Liberty, and Aces.

To add insult to injury, they had to try to get it done without Brittney Griner (hip) and Diana Taurasi (hamstring).

“They’re constantly talking,” head coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “They’re constantly helping our players and giving us ideas and cheering…even when D’s out, she makes sure the refs know she’s still on the bench…Those are players that they want to be out there so they do all they can. Our younger players are fortunate to have that mentorship on our bench.”

After losing all three and holding onto a 2-9 record in last place, it’s not hyperbole to say these upcoming four games (SEA, DAL, IND, MIN) can define the rest of the Mercury’s season.

“Game-by-game, we are getting better, even though the result isn’t a win,” guard Sug Sutton said. “That’s something we were talking about in the locker room is staying positive…when we have our big-time players come back…as a team, we’ll be better.”

“Obviously, we don’t want to be losing games and we’re very focused when we’re in practices and games,” center Megan Gustafson said. “At the same time – we have to cheer each other up, we have to encourage each other. Especially during these times, we have to find those little moments and those little wins.”

One of the only bright sides of missing your stars is giving the role players a chance to find their rhythm, and while the wins haven’t been there, that’s exactly what we’ve seen.

Sophie Cunningham has continued to do her thing, averaging 18 points over the past three contests as the offense’s focal point.

“She always comes in with positivity,” Nygaard said. “She doesn’t feel 100% but she battles. She’s a great leader for our team… I pointed out to the team – she had six assists tonight.”

Michaela Onyenwere stepped up in the frontcourt, providing a strong defensive presence and a scoring boost as well.

Sutton (career-high 21 points vs LVA), Brianna Turner, and Moriah Jefferson have all played their roles well too – the team just didn’t have enough in the tank against these elite opponents.

“Sticking to what we know we can do and what we can bring to the team,” Sutton said. “Moving forward, we just have to come together.”

The keys will be –

  1. Obviously, getting Griner and Taurasi back as soon as possible.
  2. If/when they do return, for the role players to continue playing with confidence and for the coaching staff to put them in positions to succeed.

While they fell to the Aces, 99-79, PHX took much better care of the basketball (10 turnovers) and had consistent energy on defense while finding their spots offensively.

If they hone in on the silver linings like ball movement, second chance points, and ball security going into these next stretch of games, it may be enough to notch crucial wins.

And they better hope they do, because while the bottom half of the standings are bunched up for now, it can get out of hand in a hurry.

WNBA Standings, as of June 21, 2023:

  1. Aces, 11-1
  2. Sun, 10-3


  1. Sky, 5-7
  2. Fever, 4-7
  3. Lynx, 4-8
  4. Storm, 3-8
  5. Mercury, 2-9 

A player University of Arizona fans are happy to see back on the PHX roster is guard Sam Thomas, whom the Mercury signed to an injury replacement contract.

“I was super excited,” Thomas said. “My agent texted me and was like, ‘Phoenix asked if you could come,’ and I was like, ‘Yes, please. I would love to come back here.’ I missed everyone. This is always gonna be family no matter what happens. Happy to be back here and help out any way that I can.”

Phoenix’s next chance will be on the road against the Storm on Saturday at 6 pm.

Extra sights and sounds from the game: