PHOENIX — The Phoenix Mercury are reaping the benefits of their newfound commitment to defense.
Candice Dupree scored 16 points in less than three quarters and the Phoenix Mercury won their third straight game under interim coach Russ Pennell, beating the Indiana Fever 75-58 Wednesday night.
“Just got to keep building on it,” said Dupree. “I think we are starting to see the better defense and the more defense we play, the easier it is for us offensively.”
Dupree had 14 in the first half and a jumper during a key third-quarter stretch before sustaining a minor knee injury with 3:28 left in the period. She didn’t return, but Phoenix (13-11) opened up an 18-point lead in the quarter and coasted from there.
“I think fans have been wanting us to play defense for years now and the last three games have shown that we can do it,” Dupree said. “It’s just a mindset. You get a coach in here that that is the end of the floor that he focuses on and us as players have to buy into it, and I think we have so far.”
Phoenix was 0-9 when scoring less than 80 points before Pennell took over and has won the last three having scored no more than 77, while holding opponents to 60.3 points in the three games.
Tamika Catchings had 16 points and eight rebounds for Indiana (11-12), which has lost two of three and played with just nine players due to injuries.
“That’s not the reason we lost this game,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said. “But you have to give Phoenix credit. They are playing harder on the defensive end, they’re using their length and they’re using their depth. I think they are a much better team as far as balance — they are defending and they are running and they’ve got an inside game.”
Diana Taurasi moved into fifth place on the WNBA career scoring list Wednesday, finishing with 12 points and 11 assists for the Mercury.
“If that can be our staple, and we can consistently do that like we have in three games, and tonight wasn’t perfect,” Taurasi said of the defensive effort. “But we stuck with it for 40 minutes and eventually got to the level where we wanted to be at and sustained that throughout the game.”
The Mercury have won all three games under Pennell, who took over after sixth-year coach Corey Gaines was fired on Aug. 8.
“It is about effort and positioning,” Pennell said. “What we are trying to do is put a little more pressure on the ball and pressure one pass away.”
The Fever noticed the change.
“I just think they were re-energized,” Catchings said. “Anytime you get a new system you’re going to come out with a lot of energy regardless of who comes in the game.”
Dupree scored four points during an 11-0 run that gave Phoenix a 42-31 lead at the break. The Mercury made 16 of 27 from the field, but committed 11 turnovers. Catchings had 12 points and five rebounds in the first half for Indiana, which was shut out over the final 3 minutes.
Indiana was just 9 of 38 from the field in the second half and shot 31 percent (21 of 67) for the game.
“I thought we mentally looked like we were still on the plane,” Dunn said. “I think if anything came in to play, we just didn’t seem sharp. So I thought we made some mental decisions that hurt us and I know we can play better.”
Rookie Brittney Griner had 14 points and eight rebounds, while DeWanna Bonner added 15 points and six rebounds for Phoenix, which is 7-1 against the Eastern Conference.
Taurasi, the WNBA’s scoring leader, has 6,018 career points. She made a layup in the first quarter to pass Lauren Jackson (6,007), who is sitting out the season after hamstring surgery.
The Fever played without Shavonte Zellous, their second-leading scorer at 15 points a game, who sat out a second game with plantar fasciitis.