Brittney Griner may not have entered the WNBA as the unstoppable force many expected during her rookie season, but she began her second year looking like an MVP candidate in the Phoenix Mercury’s opening night win over the Seattle Storm, 81-64, Saturday at US Airways Center.
Griner picked up four of her five blocks in the first quarter and scored 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting, remaining perfect from the floor until the final five minutes of the game.
“It was a good win, we looked good, everybody’s happy, but we could do so much better,” Griner said. “Confidence goes a long way, my confidence level grew a lot, being patient and turning it into a good situation.”
Coming off a legendary college career, Griner averaged 12.6 points as a rookie a year ago and led the league with three blocks per game, but became overshadowed by Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne in the race for Rookie of the Year.
“She’s improved a lot,” Mercury forward Candice Dupree added of Griner. “We did a good job of getting her the ball, so she’s not getting double teamed as much, but she did a great job of finishing and playing the help side of defense.”
Through the first period, the Mercury held a 25-11 lead and held the Storm to 26 percent shooting and 1-of-6 from long range. DeWanna Bonner scored five unanswered, and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota drained consecutive threes, the second the result of an Erin Phillips steal.
The Mercury sustained a 16-point lead at halftime and an 18-point one at the end of the third over the Storm, which began its year with an 80-69 home loss to the Sparks Friday.
Bonner and Jekabsone-Zogota each scored 11, Diana Taurasi had nine points, and Mistie Bass led the Mercury with six rebounds in her team debut.
Camille Little led the Storm with 14 points and seven rebounds, and Sue Bird had seven points and three assists in her second game back after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
“We had a hard time getting shots, and our defense didn’t kick in,” Storm coach Jenny Boucek said. “It took us some time for our defense to kick in, they have great offensive players, they can shoot pretty much at every position.”
The Phoenix win also snapped a five-game losing streak to Seattle, dating back to 2012.
In addition to the five seasoned new faces on the Mercury’s roster (Phillips, Bass, Jekabsone-Zogota, Ewelina Kobryn, and Shay Murphy), rookie guard Tiffany Bias played her first WNBA game fresh off leading Oklahoma State to the Sweet 16.
“I felt good, it was good to get those jitters out,” said Bias, who was 1-of-2 from the field. “My team was on the bench, cheering behind me, it felt great. It’s one of the things I’ll remember my whole life. I’ll work hard in practice, doing whatever I can to help this team.”
The Mercury is at Los Angeles Sunday and returns home at 7 p.m. May 23 versus San Antonio. Seattle begins a four-game Eastern Conference road trip May 23 in Connecticut.