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Monarchs-Mercury Preview

Jul 15, 2009 - 4:11 AM By BRETT HUSTON STATS Writer

Sacramento (3-10) at Phoenix (10-4), 3:30 p.m. EDT

With a 12-point halftime lead over the Phoenix Mercury last weekend, it appeared the struggling Sacramento Monarchs were on their way to a victory over the Western Conference's top team.

The Monarchs, though, couldn't hang on - and neither could their coach.

Jenny Boucek was fired a day after Sacramento's last-second loss to Phoenix, and general manager John Whisenant will begin his second stint as coach Wednesday afternoon when the Monarchs visit the Mercury to conclude their four-game season series.

Sacramento (3-10) made the playoffs during Boucek's two full seasons on the sidelines, but its first half of 2009 has seemed to indicate that there wouldn't be a repeat trip later this summer.

After the Monarchs' latest loss, Whisenant decided he'd seen enough. Sacramento led visiting Phoenix (10-4) by as many as 15 in the first half Saturday and shot 53.4 percent overall, but lost 107-105 when Temeka Johnson hit a 14-foot runner at the buzzer.

"... We still have over half the season left and we felt it necessary to make this change," said Whisenant, who coached the Monarchs from 2003-06 before stepping down. "We feel like this is a playoff-caliber team that can compete, and to dig ourselves down any further wouldn't be prudent."

Whisenant certainly doesn't lack coaching credentials. He guided Sacramento to the 2005 WNBA championship - one of two finals appearances during his tenure - and was the league's coach of the year that season.

"I believe (our players) think we can string something together," said Whisenant, 76-42 during the regular season and 19-10 in the postseason as coach. "... It's probably going to take 17 or 18 wins to get into the playoffs. We've got a battle ahead of us."

The Monarchs won't have to worry about facing the Mercury, the league's highest-scoring team at 92.7 points per game, again after Wednesday. Phoenix has averaged 97.7 points in taking two of three from Sacramento.

Surrounded by stars Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, Johnson isn't typically the focal point of opposing defenses, and that's served her well against Sacramento. Johnson averaged 15.0 points in Phoenix's two victories over the Monarchs.

The Mercury won Saturday even though Taurasi and Pondexter combined to shoot 8 of 27 (29.6 percent). They went 26 of 53 (49.1 percent) in their first two games against Sacramento.

"Pick your poison on this team," said center Tangela Smith, who had a season-high 20 points Saturday. "Obviously Diana and Cappie are great players, but we have a lot of scorers and have great depth."

Monarchs leading scorer Nicole Powell had 23 points in the loss to the Mercury after averaging 7.5 points in Sacramento's previous two games. She's averaged 23.3 points and 6.0 rebounds versus Phoenix in 2009.