Injuries lead to worst season for Mercury


PHOENIX (AP) — The 2012 WNBA season would have been a challenge for the Phoenix Mercury no matter what.

With the London Olympics coming right in the middle of the regular season, the league took a month hiatus and the Mercury have two national team members on their roster. But what the Mercury didn't expect was that both of their Olympians — perennial WNBA all-stars — would be sidelined with injuries.

Others also went down during the year, and with a make-shift lineup the Mercury lost a franchise-record 10 straight on either side of the Olympic break and finished 7-27, one game below their previous worst season of 8-26 in 2003.

"We were plugging in players out of position," coach Corey Gaines said after the Mercury's season ended Sunday. "I know it was a bad year for us but we did have some positive things come up."

In the midst of the injuries, three-time Sixth Woman of the Year DeWanna Bonner, found herself the No. 1 option. Even at 6-foot-4, Bonner played at the point, shooting guard and wherever she was needed, averaging 20.9 points a game, second only to Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry.

"We had so many people in a Mercury uniform this year," Bonner said. "With all the new faces, it was hard to get that team feeling. Next year will be better."

Gaines said Bonner was the revelation of the season.

"DeWanna is the main thing, she is coming into her own, she's a superstar now, she probably demands a double team," Gaines said. "She's another player to throw into the mix when we get our players healthy."

As a lottery team, Phoenix will have a shot at the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. That drawing comes on Wednesday, right before the playoffs begin. Phoenix hasn't missed the playoffs since 2008 and reached at least the conference finals the last three years. But the ailments added up in 2012.

Seven-time all-WNBA guard Diana Taurasi sat out 26 games this season, much of it with a hip flexor, although she rested enough to be the high scorer for the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the Olympics in August. Before the season started, the Mercury lost three-time all-star and Australian national team standout Penny Taylor, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during the European season and had surgery two weeks before the WNBA season started.

In the ninth game of the season, inside presence Candice Dupree suffered an injury to her left knee and later had surgery, causing her to miss 21 games.

"I had fun trying to lead," Bonner said. "I'm glad to have had the opportunity to do it but I'm going to pass that back to Diana, Penny and Candice and let them do the leading. I give all the credit to those all-stars, it's a tough role."

The upshot was a season that forced Gaines to find new combinations and even led the Mercury to go back to players who had been cut in training camp.

Among the finds were rookie point guard Samantha Prahalis of Ohio State. Prahalis played in the first 26 games of the season, before suffering a shoulder injury herself, and ended up among the league leaders in assists and was the second-highest scoring rookie in the league at 11.7 points a game.

"I think next year is going to be night and day," Prahalis said. "This year was tough at times to grind it out, sometimes down by 30 and just keep playing hard. But it will pay off next year."

Center Krystal Thomas was a surprise. Thrust into the lineup by the injuries, she responded with 10 games of 10 or more rebounds, including the last five of the season. Thomas had been cut by both Seattle and Phoenix but was signed by the Mercury five days into the regular season.

Local product Dymond Simon, an undrafted free agent from Arizona State, earned a series of short-term contracts, playing in eight games, including one against Tulsa in which she scored 16 points, had six assists and three steals.

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