Brittney Griner has been a big reason the Phoenix Mercury have surged to the top of the WNBA.
As Griner looks to help the Mercury to a sixth straight victory Wednesday night, she won’t get the chance to make up for her team’s struggles last season against fellow second-year star Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky.
Griner scored 21 points and blocked a league-record 11 shots in an 80-77 win at Tulsa on Sunday.
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"To (set a record) is pretty big, now I guess I have to try to beat it," said Griner, who topped the previous mark of 10 set by Lisa Leslie (2004) and Margo Dydek (2001).
Aside from a four-point effort in Friday’s 81-76 win at Indiana, Griner has averaged 25.3 points in the other three of a four-game stretch.
"When she started to get more physical and deeper in the paint, that’s when she’s tough to guard," Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said.
The Mercury (11-3), with a one-half game lead over Minnesota for the WNBA’s best record, will try to win six in a row for the first time since July 1-15, 2011. They’ve won four straight at home by an average of 14.0 points.
”We’re talented, we’re pretty well balanced,” guard Diana Taurasi said. ”That’s how we want to play this year. We’re aggressive and confident in what we’re doing.
”We’re playing with a little more focus."
That hasn’t always been the case during a three-game skid against Chicago (8-8), as the Sky have won the last two meetings at Phoenix by 53 points.
Griner totaled 23 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks in the two matchups with the Sky last season, but 2013 rookie of the year Delle Donne, the second overall draft pick behind Griner, scored 40.
Delle Donne, who hit a jumper in the lane as time expired in Chicago’s 70-68 home win over the Mercury on Sept. 11, will sit for the eighth time in nine games while dealing with a flare up of Lyme disease. She’s averaged 21.2 points in nine games this year.
Chicago also announced Monday that point guard Courtney Vandersloot, averaging 7.3 points and 6.3 assists, will miss six to 10 weeks with a sprained knee. However, rookie guard Jamierra Faulkner stepped up in her first career start Tuesday, scoring a season-high 27 points as Chicago won its second straight, 90-83 at Los Angeles.
”I’m taking on a big role,” Faulkner said. ”It’s a big change because of the different things that I have to learn. Courtney Vandersloot has been helping me a lot. She’s been talking to me every timeout and in practice, so I have the support that I need.”
Epiphanny Prince totaled 47 points against Phoenix last season. She is averaging 18.7 in nine games since making her season debut after taking time to recover from playing overseas.