Mercury Zapped by Sparks

By Mark Heller,
July 20, 2007

It happened again, and no one knew why. Mercury coach Paul Westhead reminded his players about their struggles against the WNBA’s woeful before Friday night’s tipoff.

Players knew it. They follow their schedule and keep tabs on the league standings, well aware of the half-dozen games they’ve lost to the league’s sub-.500 squads.

Sure enough, Los Angeles stormed out of the gate and barely relented in a thorough, 88-78 victory over the Mercury at US Airways Center.

It’s the third time this season the Mercury snapped another team’s seven-game losing streak.

So a team with deep playoff aspirations lost another chance to move up into second place in the West and separate themselves by another game against fourth-place Seattle.

They knew part of the reasons why: Poor shooting and 20 turnovers.

The reasons for bad starts and lethargic play on offense against another sagging opponent, remain a mystery.

“I’m not a man with a lot of answers,” Westhead said. “We’re an interesting, puzzling kind of team.”

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For the second consecutive night the Mercury (12-10) fell behind big early. Last time against Seattle, the deficit disappeared.

It briefly vanished again when the Mercury forged a 55-55 tie midway through the third quarter, but the Sparks (8-13) stuck one in Phoenix’s gut with a 12-0 run.

As for another night to forget, the Mercury locker room could only summarize what happened.

“Us being a veteran team, we should play with a lot more energy and effort,” guard Cappie Pondexter said. “We didn’t.”

Pondexter (23 points) was most of the offense. Penny Taylor chipped in with 14 points but was hurting from a second abdominal injury suffered late Tuesday. Diana Taurasi and Tangela Smith shot a combined 4-for-17.

Phoenix scored two points in the game’s first five minutes, then went five minutes without a point between the third and fourth quarters.

Meanwhile, Sparks forward Sidney Spencer scored 16 in the quarter. Spencer averaged eight points and three rebounds for the season. She finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds on Friday.

Mwadi Mabika averages similar season numbers. She had 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

The team talked about regrouping quickly with another sagging team coming to town Sunday in Minnesota.

Westhead jokingly showed disappointment when told Minnesota lost in overtime on Friday night. Struggling teams spell trouble for Westhead’s team these days.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” Smith said. “Every game is crucial. We need to get these. It’s another win we should have had.”

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.