Over 9,100 fans filled up Mohegan Sun Arena to see reigning league MVP Tina Charles battle rookie sensation Brittney Griner in the first of what should be many epic battles between the star centers.
While Charles won the individual battle, it was Griner’s supporting cast who won the game for the visiting Mercury, 89-70.
Diana Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner both had 19 points and Candice Dupree had 18 to lead the Phoenix (7-4) to their seventh win in their past eight games and handing the Sun (2-7) their fourth straight defeat.
The lone bright-spot for the Sun was Charles’ domination of the low post. She had 25 points and 13 rebounds while holding Griner to only nine points and five rebounds. Charles also forced Griner to foul out and attempted 24 free throws, which tied Cynthia Cooper’s WNBA record for free throw attempts in a game and her 19 makes were second all-time to Cooper’s 22.
“It’s really unfortunate we finally have a game where we get to the free throw line like this and we can’t make it work in our favor,” Sun coach Anne Donnovan said after the game. “Give Tina Charles a ton of props. She came in very focused on that matchup. I thought she did a good job on both ends of the floor. But unfortunately the rest of us kind of let our guard down and if you’re not shooting the ball well you better play well at the other end of the floor.”
On the defensive end the Sun allowed Phoenix to shoot 47 percent from the floor and over 30 percent from three point distance.
“We can’t stop fighting and I feel there were stretches tonight where we did that,” Donnovan said. “I thought there were stretches where we looked defeated defensively and they got to the rim.”
“The 44 points in the paint, they weren’t Griner so there was a lot of dribble penetration.”
Despite the rough start to the season, Charles said they will continue to do what they have been doing until their injured players return. Rene Montgomery, Tan White, and Kara Lawson have all been missing games with injuries.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Charles repeated multiple times after the game.
The Mercury however keep rolling along. They have been averaging 86 points per game and they were seemingly scoring at will en route to a 19 point road victory.
After their 0-3 start they have found an offensive rhythm and look like the team everybody thought they would be when Taurasi and Griner teamed up.
“There is something to be said for getting used to each other, before the season you kept hearing the expectations and this and that…We knew it wasn’t gonna be that easy. You don’t just put together a team and automatically they’re really good and they vibe with each other so we had to work through that,” Taurasi said.
As for the night’s marquee matchup, Charles said she didn’t over-think playing against Griner: “I just try to approach every game the same. I don’t have a different mindset I just want to attack I just want to go hard.”
Griner said that playing someone of Charles’ caliber is good for her and will help her adjust to the professional game: “She’s one of the best centers in the league so anytime I can go up against her it just helps better my game.”
With the amount of talent both players have, fans should get used to seeing these two star centers battle each other for years to come.
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