Sophie Cunningham admits to some nerves when she made her first WNBA start on July 5.

Results were mixed. The Phoenix Mercury rookie only scored two points, both on free throws, but had six rebounds and three assists in a loss to New York.

Coach Sandy Brondello went back to Essence Carson as a starter at small forward in the next game, but now Carson is out with a right calf injury that had her in a boot on Monday. So Cunningham will get her second start Tuesday against Indiana in the Mercury’s final game before the WNBA All-Star break.

“She always plays hard,” Brondello said. “She give us a lot of penetration, which is what we’ve been asking this team to do, not just be jump shooters. You still have to remind her to keep looking for her shot too. She’s very active.”

Cunningham somehow got an awkward shot off a drive to go down Saturday at Dallas, where she also picked up her first career flagrant foul.

“At Missouri, I did look for that scoop,” Cunningham said. “It looked like it was bad, but it went in so I’m not going to argue about it.”

As for the flagrant, she said, “They’re making a joke out of it like this is your first of many. Diana (Taurasi) is like, ‘I like the aggression, I’ll pay for every one.’ I don’t think it was that bad, but they called it so I’ve just got to move on from it.”

Cunningham had a breakout game in the last meeting against Indiana with 19 points in 22 minutes. Brondello no doubt is hoping for that lightning to strike again, and she prefers to keep DeWanna Bonner starting at power forward with Sancho Lyttle out.

With Carson’s injury, the Mercury again are down to nine healthy players. How soon that will change is uncertain although after Tuesday they do not play again until July 30.

Carson could be back first depending on results on her MRI. Taurasi played for 15:58 on July 12, her only appearance so far after back surgery, but suffered a setback and has not practiced since. Lyttle is out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury suffered July 12. 

Veterans Camille Little and Yvonne Turner and rookies Alanna Smith and Brianna Turner make up the bench for Tuesday and perhaps beyond.

Turner had her best game – four points and six rebounds in 13 minutes – Saturday in a 70-66 win at Dallas and is learning to post power forward after previously training at center.

“We’ve been trying to tell her to stay ready,” Brondello said of the 6-3 Brianna Turner. “(Sunday) when we got off the plane, she was in here getting a workout in. I keep telling all of them (rookies), ‘Your time is going to come.’ I was really happy to see her have success. That’s all they need to see, I can play against these people.”

– The WNBA All-Star draft will be televised at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN2. Captains Elena Delle Donne and A’ja Wilson will draft from a pool of players voted as starters and reserves that includes the Mercury’s Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner. The All-Star Game is Saturday in Las Vegas.

Up next

Indiana Fever at Mercury, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Talking Stick Resort Arena – The Mercury (9-8) are 2-0 vs. Indiana (6-14), winning 94-87 on June 9 and 91-69 on June 28. The Fever have lost five straight and nine of their last 10.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8053. Follow him on Twitter @jeffmetcalfe.

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