Mercury hold off Shock in Pennell's debut
AUG 09, 2013 10:24p ET
PHOENIX -- For eight years the Phoenix Mercury have been known for offense. Playing under interim coach Russ Pennell for the first time, the Mercury needed a stop to get a win.
The Mercury outscored the Shock 5-2 in the final two minutes and didn't allow Tulsa rookie Skylar Diggins to score in their final possession to secure a 70-67 win in Pennell's debut.
"I thought it was very appropriate we had to win it on the defensive end with a stop," Pennell said. "We made some careless mistakes that we have to correct, but overall I couldn't be more pleased with the effort and the attitude."
Diana Taurasi scored 23 points, including a 17-footer to break a 65-65 tie with 1:42 left, just a day after sixth-year coach Corey Gaines was fired after a 10-11 start this season with high expectations after the Mercury got the No. 1 overall pick, Brittney Griner.
Griner has missed six games with various injuries, including Friday's win. She landed awkwardly on her ankle in Tuesday's loss to Seattle and warmed up on Friday but did not play.
"Everything has been different for the last two days, walking into the locker room not knowing what to expect, not knowing what to do in practice until he obviously put the structure together," Taurasi said. "Tonight is the same. Every word we're listening. We don't know what he is going to say, or how he is going to react to things. Little by little we are getting used to it."
Candice Dupree scored eight of her 20 points in the fourth quarter and added nine rebounds as Phoenix opened up a nine-point lead. But Liz Cambage sparked a 9-0 run to get Tulsa even with 1:57 remaining.
Taurasi and Lynetta Kizer made baskets while Tulsa failed to score on back-to-back possessions. Nicole Powell hit a baseline jumper with 31 seconds left to pull the Shock within 69-67. Taurasi missed a baseline floater and Tulsa got the ball with 9 seconds left. Diggins missed a driving layup in traffic in the dying seconds.
"I'm not the smartest coach in the world, but I do know she (Taurasi) can play and we're trying to get her the ball in clutch moments for sure," Pennell said.
It was the first win in 10 games this season for the Mercury when scoring less than 80 points.
Cambage led Tulsa with 19 points.
"It's a heartbreaking loss for us," Shock coach Gary Kloppenburg said. "Because I felt we played well enough to win. We just needed another couple shots for us to go down, a couple more free throws and it is probably a different result."
Phoenix, which earned only its second win in the last six games, outrebounded Tulsa 40-25 but had 23 turnovers, leading to 19 Shock points.
It was the third loss in the last four games for the last-place Shock.
"We had a few defensive lapses," Cambage said. "Defense wins games. A lack of rebounds killed us."
Phoenix opened up a 49-40 lead in the third quarter, but Diggins scored the last eight points of the period after hitting a 3-pointer and Tulsa was within 54-53 going into the fourth.
Gaines, who ran an up-tempo offense as an assistant for two years and head coach since 2008, led the team to the 2009 WNBA title.
Pennell was head coach at the University of Arizona after Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson retired in 2008. He spent the last four seasons as head coach at Division II Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
"It's been a whirlwind 48 hours, but you know what's funny about basketball, the moment that game started, I don't know if I even noticed anyone," Pennell said. "It was just coaching again."