PHOENIX — The Phoenix Mercury took another step closer to reaching the postseason. For 35 minutes, the Connecticut Sun did not look like the team with the worst record in the WNBA.
Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner scored 22 points each as the Mercury beat Connecticut 76-68 Saturday night, handing the Sun their seventh straight loss.
“The whole game I’m thinking, we can’t be the ones that lose to this team,” Dupree said. “It sounds horrible but that’s the mentality you have to have because at some point they are going to get somebody and I don’t want us to be the team that they get.”
The Sun (7-22) did stay with the Mercury (15-13) for most of the night, taking advantage of Phoenix mistakes and had a 64-62 lead halfway through the final period.
But the Mercury outscored the Sun 14-4 over the final 4 1/2 minutes to earn their fifth win in seven games under interim coach Russ Pennell.
“We have to play hard all the time, I think we try to turn it on and off a little bit,” Pennell said. “You just can’t do that. That’s almost disrespectful to your opponents when you do that. You gotta bring your energy from early on.”
Tina Charles had 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Sun, who were eliminated from the playoff race with the loss.
“We gave up a couple of o-boards that were a huge difference down the stretch,” Sun coach Anne Donovan said. “We had some good looks but it was defensively that we had some lapses at the end.”
Brittney Griner had two baskets in the first 90 seconds but didn’t score again until making a key short turnaround jumper with 1:31 left to give Phoenix a 71-66 lead. She finished with six points and eight rebounds.
Dupree added nine rebounds while Diana Taurasi, the league’s second-leading scorer, had just 10 points and eight assists for Phoenix, which will clinch a playoff berth with its next win or a San Antonio loss. The teams’ next game is against each other in Phoenix on Friday.
“We got rebounds and got some fast-break points,” Bonner said of the stretch run. “We played smart, we didn’t turn the ball over at all in the last five minutes, which was great, and got some stops.”
Connecticut only shot 35 percent from the field but scored 24 points off 17 Phoenix turnovers to stay in the game.
“We’re having a hard time,” Dupree said. “We’ve never turned the ball over this much. We definitely have to clean it up, especially with playoffs coming up.”
“The big concern for me is the turnovers,” he said. “And they’re careless turnovers. They are not anything that anyone is forcing as much as our focus isn’t good on that. So we need to try and solve that problem before the next game.”
The Sun had lost their previous six games by an average of 15 points, but led 64-62 after Charles’ left hook with 6:08 left.
Although Phoenix led by six with 2:58 left in the third, the teams were tied at 56 going into the final quarter.
Phoenix opened up an early lead as the Sun faltered from the field, trailing 21-12 late in the first period. However, Connecticut scored eight straight points in the second quarter and Tan White’s desperation 27-footer at the buzzer gave the Sun a 37-36 advantage at the break.
Charles had a double-double halfway through the second quarter after grabbing 11 rebounds and scoring 10 points with 5 minutes left in the half.
Phoenix has won five of its last seven but three of those came against last-place Tulsa. The Mercury are also 8-1 against Eastern Conference teams.