Two weeks ago, Tianna Hawkins was in jeopardy of being permanently benched.
She wasn’t practicing hard. She wasn’t performing well in games. And the already short-handed Storm didn’t have time for it.
Hawkins altered perception Thursday night in Seattle’s 88-79 win against Phoenix before 6,457 at KeyArena. With the Storm down in the second quarter, she scored seven points to help pull Seattle within three at halftime, 44-41.
By the time teammate Tanisha Wright found Hawkins with a shovel pass in the paint with 2:45 left in the third quarter, the rookie’s bucket had the Storm up six, 60-54.
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“I’ve never questioned Tianna’s ability to be able to play in the WNBA,” teammate Tina Thompson said of the former Maryland star. “I felt like she was always waiting for someone to make something happen instead of taking the initiative. In practice and our last few games, she’s taken the initiative to put herself in positions to be effective.”
Phoenix (9-10) stayed in a zone a majority of the game. Hawkins helped shake the Mercury with a three-pointer, one of a season-high 11 by the Storm. The rookie’s ability to run also helped the Storm (8-10) take control of after being down by as many as 13 in the opening half.
The Storm outscored Phoenix 28-16 in the third quarter, shooting 52.6 percent from the field. Its signature defense held the Mercury to 26.3 percent shooting.
“It all starts in practice,” said Hawkins, who finished with 13 points. Thompson and guard Temeka Johnson had 16 points apiece. Johnson and Wright also had seven assists apiece.
Mercury All-Star Diana Taurasi drew three fouls in a 35-second span and fouled out. She watched the final 2:59 from the bench.
“There were just good calls by the refs,” Taurasi said of the stretch. “If you look at percentages, they (Seattle) don’t necessarily have snipers. Tonight they knocked them in.”
Phoenix rookie Brittney Griner returned to the lineup after missing the past five games with a sprained left knee. Mercury coach Corey Gaines played her in five-minute stretches, the Storm making most of its highlight plays with the 6-foot-8 center on the bench.
“We didn’t do a very good job on her tonight,” said Agler. Griner finished with 11 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes.
“We’re not used to playing against somebody like that,” Agler said. “Hopefully the next time we play them, which is in a few days, we’ll do a better job.”
Seattle’s second against the Mercury this season left the Storm a half-game behind the Mercury for third place in Western Conference.
Sanford leaves team
Center Nakia Sanford left the team this week. Coach Brian Agler confirmed her absence before the team played Phoenix.
Sanford, an 11-year veteran, was cut July 18 before WNBA contracts became guaranteed. Agler signed her to two seven-day contracts, keeping a financial option open to signing a better player.
After signing the second contract on Sunday, Sanford left for her home in Atlanta.
“She just didn’t prefer seven-day contracts,” Agler said. “She’s a great person and was very professional about it.”
Sanford will be paid for the full week. Agler said the team will sign a 10th player.
Karen Bryant, Storm president and CEO, was presented the Community Spirit of Seafair award, given to individuals who have made a meaningful impact on the City of Seattle. Bryant is the first woman to win the award since it was established in 2010.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.