MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With everyone on a deep team playing well, things couldn’t be much rosier right now for the Minnesota Lynx.
The Phoenix Mercury are just hanging on until they get some key bodies back.
Lindsay Whalen had 18 points and seven assists to lead Minnesota past Phoenix 81-69 on Wednesday afternoon.
Seimone Augustus added 16 and Monica Wright 14 for Minnesota, winners of seven straight. The Lynx have beaten Phoenix 10 straight times, including all five meetings this season.
“We didn’t play the perfect game, but we came out with the win,” said forward Rebekkah Brunson, who had just three points but added seven rebounds.
Candice Dupree scored 17 points for Phoenix (9-9), which played without an injured Brittney Griner and suspended Diana Taurasi. DeWanna Bonner added 15 points and Charde Houston 13.
Griner missed her fifth straight game with a left knee sprain. Taurasi, the WNBA’s leading scorer at 22.4 points per game, had a league-mandated one-game suspension after picking up her seventh technical foul of the season on Sunday. Forward Penny Taylor, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL and is being eased back into the lineup, missed her second straight game to get some rest.
“If you take Seimone, Maya (Moore) and Whalen off that team right now,” said coach Corey Gaines, his voice trailing off. “I think it’s going to come down to us and them. I think we will come back with my big healthy and ready to play and Diana with a fresh mind. It will be interesting.”
The schedule also gets easier for the Mercury, whose nine losses have come against teams with a combined record of 101-46. Of it’s past six games, three were against Minnesota and two against Los Angeles. However, the Mercury did win in Los Angeles last week.
Minnesota led by 14 late in the second quarter, but Bonner scored five points in a 9-2 Mercury run to close the half and get within 41-34.
“We just wanted to stay aggressive,” Bonner said. “I think my team did a good job of hanging in there.”
However, Augustus and Whalen had six points each during a 14-4 run to open the third quarter and push the lead to 53-38. The spurt included a fast-break layup by Brunson, an Augustus layup after long pass from Janel McCarville and a driving layup by Whalen in 51-second span.
Minnesota held a 28-4 advantage in fast-break points.
“We’re always looking to be a transition team, especially at home,” Moore said. “It’s fun to get out and run. We got great motors on this team and great finishers as well. … It’s really, really tough to stop us when our wheels are going in transition.”
The game was played in front of a franchise-record 16,404 fans, the majority of them pre-teens as part of the team’s annual Camp Day.
“I heard it a lot. It looked like a lot of dancing, singing and a lot of fun,” Whalen said. “I know every time the ‘NOISE’ thing went up there for Phoenix’s free throws it just went crazy in there. It was a really cool day.”
Much like the majority of the season.
At 14-3, Minnesota has reached the season’s halfway point with the league’s best record. It has four players — Augustus, Moore, Whalen and Brunson — and its coaching staff heading to Saturday’s All-Star Game.
“I really like how we’ve improved as a team at the rate we’ve improved at,” said coach Cheryl Reeve. “I think with this team the light bulb has really gone on for us about the physical toughness, the mental toughness, the defensive toughness, things that we know in order for us to accomplish our goals we have to get done.
“The consistency that this team plays with is something that I think people take for granted. You just expect it from these players. … For me one of the best things you can say about a team is you’re consistent. We’ve done that and I think we’ve reached a pretty high level of play, but we still have more to do. From the start of the season until now we’ve become a very good basketball team.”
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