Mercury rejuvenated with Nikki Blue at the helm

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

“Sometimes you gotta shake things up a little bit.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Brittney.

“The final straw is that we’re 2-10,” general manager Jim Pitman said. “That’s just not good enough. Our organization, our fans expect a lot from the Phoenix Mercury.”

Sitting in last place, following another blowout loss, it was time for the Mercury to move on from Vanessa Nygaard and elevate top assistant Nikki Blue to interim head coach.

“Not new to [coaching changes],” star center Brittney Griner said. “Nikki’s amazing…thank you to Vanessa for everything she did…it’s a different energy. Definitely a pick up…We added a few things, took out some things. I think in the grand scheme of things, it’s gonna help us out tremendously.”

“Nikki’s relationships with the players, her basketball IQ,” Pitman said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity for her. I think it’s gonna be a great reset for our team. I feel like there’s a really good vibe among our players right now…expect that we’ll play with a level of energy we haven’t seen in a couple weeks.”

You could feel that energy shift at Footprint Center right away in their matchup against a solid Dallas Wings squad.

While it came in a loss, a banged up PHX team was consistently more aggressive and active on defense, forcing 17 turnovers.

“We did have some great key stops in a row,” Blue said. “We’ve had a crazy past couple days. As they get more familiar with our new offense and new defensive schemes, I think it’ll get better…We never rejoice or accept losses…I do think that we took strides in the right direction tonight in certain areas.”

On the other end, they showed off what a dynamic offense looks like with Griner (20 points, five rebounds, two blocks) as the main cog. In general, they did a better job hiding their intentions.

“Our effort in the first three quarters was really good,” guard Moriah Jefferson (11 points, four assists) said. “Our defense was really good at times…in the fourth quarter, you can’t have that many mistakes in a row. You’re not gonna win a game – not in the WNBA. As players, it’s our job to be better.”

“Energy definitely has changed,” guard Jennie Simms said. “That’s just one day of [Nikki] being in here so imagine what can happen in a week from now.”

Phoenix was within three with over seven minutes to go before Dallas’ 12-0 run topped off an implosive fourth quarter for the Mercury, who fell 77-62.

“We hung in there for the first three quarters,” Blue said. “I don’t know if it was fatigue. Our lineups were distorted a little bit due to minutes restrictions and some key players missing. I think we just got out of wack for a small amount of time.”

Make no mistake – Blue earned her way to this opportunity.

“It means everything to me,” Blue said. “The growth that you can experience in this city. Me coming in at GCU…getting able to go to ASU and do a great job there…and being a professional as a coach all in the same city. It’s given my family the opportunity to be here for the past six years and for this to become our community.”

As a matter of fact, the second phone call she made (after her mom and boyfriend), was to legendary Arizona State women’s basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne, whom she coached under for the Sun Devils.

“She was very supportive, as she always is,” Blue said. “She said, ‘You’re ready. You’re beyond ready.'”

And while pros like Blue are used to the business of sports, accepting the position knowing her friend in Nygaard is losing her job doesn’t make it any easier.

“It’s always bittersweet when it’s a situation like this,” Blue said. “Vanessa called me when everything happened… she also reiterated that, ‘You’re ready, Nikki. You’re gonna do a great job. I’ll be here rooting for you.'”

She’ll be rooting along with the X-Factor, that is holding its collective breathe as Phoenix has now lost six in a row.

“We are in a tough position,” Blue said. “Pretty banged up. We have a couple different circumstances going on…It’s gonna take patience…I’m most excited about just having the opportunity to coach a great group of women… We know we have to continue to work hard and get better to turn the season around.”

The Mercury’s homestand continues on Thursday as they host the Fever at 7 pm.

Extra sights and sounds from tonight’s game: