Brittney Griner can be the best women’s basketball player in the world, her coach said.
The 6-9 Phoenix Mercury looked exactly like that Wednesday night, scoring a career high 32 points and contributing 10 rebounds in a 85-62 blowout win over the Indiana Fever at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Griner was 13-of-15 from the floor, hitting jumpers and sky hooks and converting several three-point plays. The fifth-year pro now has a career best seven consecutive 15-point regular season games going back to 2016.
Phoenix improved to 1-1, rebounding from a 68-58 loss to Dallas on Sunday.
“My teammates got me into it,” Griner said. “Credit to them, I can’t get it in to myself. It does feel good putting that underneath my belt. It started off kind of slow. I was like it’s going to be a defensive night for me then it just started coming.”
Indiana had no answer for Griner, who scored 21 points in the first half. The Mercury used a 15-0 run in the second quarter on the way to a 52-29 halftime lead.
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“We showed what we’re capable of tonight,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “It starts with playing defense and rebounding. That’s real critical for us because it really gets our offense going.”
Brondello, also assistant coach on Griner’s Russian team, said, “I keep telling her she can be as good as she wants as long as she’s ready to play. We’re telling her she has to go rebound. That’s when she’s the best for us. She’s improved from playing over in Russia, but she’s got really good guards around her. They’re feeding her the ball at the right time, and she’s getting easy baskets.”
Phoenix had more rebounds (22) and nearly as many points (52) at halftime as it managed in all of the Dallas loss.
The Mercury literally rebounded from a franchise tying low 17 boards in the opener against Dallas to lead on the glass 36-29. “We have to rebound,” Griner said. “You can’t win the game letting the other team get all the boards. We were able to get second-chance points and keep them from getting second-chance points. We were able to get the ball, kick it out, run and let our speedy guards go create. That was big.”
At 1-1, Phoenix is off to a better start than last season when it lost its first four and six of the first eight games. Indiana, playing its first season since WNBA second leading career scorer Tamika Catchings retired, fell to 0-2.
The Mercury next are on the road at San Antonio (0-2) on Friday.
Mercury guard Diana Taurasi had six rebounds, surpassing 1,500 for her career. She is the only WNBA player with 7,000 points (or 6,000 for that matter), 1,500 boards and 1,500 assists. She also passed Katie Smith for the most 3-point attempts in WNBA history.
Taurasi scored 13 points, up from three against Dallas when she shot 1-of-11 on the day after her wedding.
“I’ve really admired how she’s grown every year,” Taurasi said of Griner, also her Russian and 2016 U.S. Olympic teammate then taking a jab at her about being slow. “That opener was really our third preseason game. It was first time I shared the court with Danielle (Robinson) and Leilani (Mitchell) and Brittney the same. Basketball is all about synergy and rhythm and knowing where the next person is going to be.
“To have that switch flipped in 48 hours means this team was ready and focused and all the things Sandy wanted us to do.”
Going back to the end of 2016, the Mercury held a fourth straight regular-season opponent under 70 points for the first time since 2005.
Mercury point guards Robinson and Mitchell combined for 21 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds.
Indiana forward Candice Dupree returned to Phoenix, where she played from 2010-16, to lead the Fever with 14 points.
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Dupree played in 243 games with the Mercury before being traded in the offseason. She is third in team rebounding history and fourth in scoring.
Fever guard Briann January scored four, down from a career tying best 23 Sunday against Seattle.
January, in her ninth season out of ASU, is the longest tenured Fever player after the retirement of Catchings. She will begin her coaching career as an ASU assistant in the fall while still playing for the foreseeable future.
With Sophie Brunner as a Mercury backup and January, the game is thought to be the first in the WNBA with two former ASU players since the league’s first year in 1997. Brunner made her pro debut with 4:58 remaining.