Since star guard Epiphanny Prince broke her foot nearly two weeks ago, it's been a struggle for the Chicago Sky to fill the void. She was leading the WNBA in scoring (24.3 ppg) at the time of the injury, which will keep her out through the Olympic break.
But then, there's the Phoenix Mercury. As tough as it is for the Sky without Prince, injuries have made life tough for Phoenix ... times four.
The Mercury entered Friday's game against the Sky at Allstate Arena down four of five starters, including three of the best players in recent WNBA history.
Australian Olympian and 10-year WNBA veteran Penny Taylor was on the injured list before the season even started when she blew out her knee during a game in the off-season. League great and scoring machine Diana Taurasi has played only two games this season due to a hip injury and former Sky forward Candice Dupree, one of the most reliable scorers and rebounders in the league, as well as center Nakia Sanford have both missed multiple games in recent days with sore knees.
Add in the fact that the down-and-out Mercury has lost three of its last four games and is in the midst of a draining four-game, 10-day road trip and the Sky was, on paper, a 20-point favorite. At least.
"I agree with that," Sky center Sylvia Fowles said. "You would think that's what would happen."
Turns out, though, that 20-point assumption was worth no more than the paper it came on. Somehow, the wounded, hobbled and outnumbered Mercury managed to out- hustle the Sky for a stunning 84-81 victory in front of 5,488 disappointed fans.
The Mercury got a game-high 27 points out of forward DeWanna Bonner, who has won the league's Sixth Woman of the Year award the last three years but has been pressed into a starting role this season because of all the injuries.
The loss drops the Sky, which stormed out to a 7-1 start, to 7-5. Without Prince in the lineup, the Sky is now 0-4.
Phoenix, meanwhile, improved to 4-9 on the strength of uncharacteristically hot shooting from 3-point range (a 44 percent clip that was 15 percentage points better than the team's average) and an astonishing 41-25 advantage on the boards. The Sky entered the game as the No. 1 rebounding team in the league.
"I'm kind of embarrassed," said Sky reserve Shay Murphy, who gave a spark off the bench with 15 points. "It's really unfortunate to lose a home game in general, but to lose to a team that's missing pretty much all of its starters, this one hurts. This one is sour. There is just no excuse. There is no one to blame but ourselves.
"A lot of it, especially the rebounding, was just pure effort. We've got a lot of basketball left, but we've got to correct what went wrong right now. It's not that we got out-skilled. They aren't better than us. We just got out-hustled."
The Sky got double-figures out of five players, led by forward Swin Cash and her 16 points. Center Sylvia Fowles had her 11th double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds but nothing came easy. Normally the best shooter in the league at 67 percent, Fowles hit just 3 of her 12 field goal attempts.
"I look to myself for a lot of what happened tonight," Fowles said. "I just wasn't aggressive, I wasn't crashing the boards like I normally do. It was the worst game of my season. It's a nasty feeling and I've got to make sure it doesn't happen again."