After being crushed on the boards in their previous two games, the Phoenix Mercury knew their matinee Wednesday against Dallas would boil down to rebounding.
The Wings are the WNBA leader in offensive rebounding and had a 49-28 overall rebound edge June 20 in a 69-54 win over the Mercury.
Dallas was doing much of the same in the first half Wednesday, pulling 11 offensive boards, but that changed at halftime.
The Wings had just two offensive boards in the second half, and the Mercury grabbed three key rebounds in the final two minutes for a 69-64 win before 10,143 mostly screaming youth campers at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“Sandy (Brondello) definitely got on us about it,” Mercury center Brittney Griner said. “For us to hear that (and improve) just shows us being able to make adjustments because that’s what we’re going to have to do the rest of the season.”
Brittney Griner, Sandy Brondello on Mercury win over Dallas
Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral sports
Dallas (5-12) scored only two points after rookie Arike Ogunbowale hit a 3-pointer for 62-all at 2:08.
Camille Little rebounded after an Ogunbowale runner miss, was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws. Kaela Davis quickly hit a layup to put Dallas up 64-63.
DeWanna Bonner inbounded out of a timeout to 6-9 Griner, who made a short hook shot. After a Davis 3-point miss, Little again came up with the rebound. Bonner was fouled and made two free throws, Little blocked a Glory Johnson, Griner rebounded then made a pair of clinching free throws with 10.5 seconds left as the Mercury (8-8) ended a two-game losing streak.
The 6-9 Griner finished with a game-high 23 points and seven boards. She played most of the second half with four fouls.
“I think it was the first rebound I grabbed all game,” Griner said. “I missed that (hook) shot a couple of games back (80-76 loss to New York on July 5) in the same spot, but this time I think it put it up high enough instead of hitting the backboard.”
Little’s best game of season
Neither team could get much separation. The Mercury led 26-17 early in the second quarter but trailed 34-31 at halftime. After going ahead at 7:13 in the third quarter, Phoenix led for all but seven seconds the rest of the way but never by more than seven.
Little had her best game of what she’s already announced will be her final season with 11 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. Essence Carson scored 11 points, helping to make up for an off shooting game (2-of-9) by WNBA scoring leader Bonner, who still had 10 points and eight boards.
“We grinded out a win, we found a way,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “They’ve got some real good 1-on1 players. We had great activity, we had great physicality. In the second half, we only allowed them two offensive rebounds, and that really helped us.”
The 6-2 Little is an important player given the loss of 6-5 Sancho Lyttle to a bone bruise for 4-6 weeks.
“It’s been a rocky road with these nagging injuries,” said Little, who missed the first five games with a foot injury. “It’s like as soon as you announced you’re going to retire, it’s like boom, boom, boom. It’s like your car hasn’t moved in a month and now the whistles and bells go off. That’s what my body was feeling like for a while. I’m feeling pretty good, hopefully I can keep it rolling. I just want to be consistent and do whatever we need.”
Ogunbowale led Dallas with 14 points but on 6-of-22 shooting. Glory Johnson scored 10 off the bench, and Imani McGee-Stafford had 11 rebounds.
“Just like (Chelsea) Gray, we have a league full of phenomenal scorers,” Mercury guard Briann January said of Ogunbowale, who starred on Notre Dame’s 2018 national championship team. “She’s going to be one of them. I admire her confidence. She does what she does very well. My job is just to make her feel a little uncomfortable so hopefully she misses some of those shots. I like the way she plays the game.”
Being first and second in WNBA scoring and being selected to the All-Star Game, July 27 in Las Vegas, are qualified honors for Bonner and Griner because of the Mercury’s team struggles.
Griner, who will be an All-Star starter, said, “It’s always nice to go be an All-Star. It’s in Vegas so I’m looking forward to having fun in Vegas honestly. Sometimes teams going into All-Star not doing so good, they come out of All-Star it’s like a re-set button so we can come back and take off.
“We’ve got to be a team that before we go into it, get on the right track then once we come out of All-Star, we’ll be the team that takes off.”
Bonner is an All-Star reserve for a second straight season and third overall. Griner is making her sixth All-Star appearance.
Bonner said, “We are at the top in league scoring but like BG said not really capitalizing on it right now. It’s still an honor. It’s not easy to do. Credit to our coaches and teammates for getting us the ball. But going to All-Star, I’m looking forward to it. It’s my third one, right up the street in Vegas thank goodness.”
It’s off to Dallas for a rematch Saturday in the third of four meetings this season. Both teams play just three games against all over WNBA opponents.
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