Phoenix Mercury interim head coach Nikki Blue picked up her first win Thursday as the team snapped a six-game losing streak with an 85-63 victory over the Indiana Fever.

“Their energy level was at an all-time high,” Blue said of the players. “It was very fun basketball to watch and even more fun to coach. As much as I credit us as coaches putting it together, it was all these players. They make our jobs easy on nights like this.”

Mercury veteran Diana Taurasi had 17 points, one of her best performances of the season. Following the game, Taurasi talked about Blue’s first win as a head coach.

“We’ve all been through it together,” she told reporters after the game. “It’s been refreshing the last couple of days, of trying to reset as a group and coach has been the main factor in that. It’s been really good trying to move forward. … It’s just a credit to her hard work.”

Taurasi also spoke for the first time about the departure of Vanessa Nygaard, who was fired on June 25 after a 2-10 start to the season.

“The last few years has not been easy in a lot of ways for our franchise, for our team,” she said. “I thought Vanessa did an incredible job of always keeping her cool, always keeping the team together.

“I don’t pick the coaches here. I think people think I do a lot here but I play and the GM and management, they made decisions, what’s best for our team. And I think going forward, that’s what they were thinking. So, I have great respect for Vanessa and I’m sure she’ll find a way to get back in coaching because that is her passion and her love and I learned a lot from her.”

The Mercury have had a “renewed sense of confidence” amid the coaching change, Blue said earlier this week. While the coach did not know what to expect when she took the helm, players have “exceeded my expectations,” she said.

After her first win, she outlined her journey over the last year, which included being passed over for the Arizona State head coaching job in 2022 before she joined the Mercury.

“I’ve been through so much coaching. And it’s not about me, but a year ago, in March, I was assistant coach at ASU,” Blue said. “Charli Turner Thorne said she was retiring, wanted to hand over the program to me. … They actually found a phenomenal coach. But to be told that I checked all the boxes except one, which was head coaching experience, was difficult for me since I was so bought into that school and I wanted that job.

“For us to get this win, it just reminds me of that saying, ‘God doesn’t call on the qualified, he qualifies the called.’ … So all I needed was an opportunity and … a great team to have my back. I’m so grateful we got this win and I got my first win as a head coach, and I’m truly appreciative of that.”

Turner Thorne is joining the Mercury as an assistant on Blue’s staff, the team announced Friday.

The Phoenix Mercury announced on Sunday morning that Vanessa Nygaard is out as head coach after a 2-10 start to the 2023 WNBA season.

The news comes after Phoenix lost to the Seattle Storm 97-74 on Saturday night, marking the team’s fifth straight loss. Both Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi played in Seattle after missing three games due to injury.

“What’s happening just isn’t going to cut it,” Griner said postgame.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever had a record like this, that’s for sure. It’s really frustrating honestly. I don’t know (how to fix it). I guess tear it down and rebuild it back up. I really don’t get it. It’s just not going the way we want it to go. It’s not the Phoenix Mercury basketball that we all know.”

Nygaard, who was hired by the Mercury in January 2022, oversaw a tumultuous 2022 season during which Griner was detained in Russia. The season prior, the Mercury played in the WNBA Finals under head coach Sandy Brondello, who left for the New York Liberty that offseason.

We thank Vanessa Nygaard for the way she endured and managed the adversity of the last year-plus.  Our organization and our fans have high expectations for this team, and we have not reached those with our performance this year,” Mercury general manager Jim Pitman said in a statement.

Mercury lead assistant coach Nikki Blue will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the 2023 WNBA season. Prior to working as a collegiate and pro coach, Blue played five seasons in the WNBA for the Washington Mystics (2006-10) and the Liberty (2011).

Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard apologized on Friday for her comments about the All-Star game in which she said that it “will not be an All-Star Game because Diana Taurasi is not there.”

Her comments further raised eyebrows when Mercury star Skylar Diggins-Smith tweeted out a clown emoji – the latest in a series of heated exchanges between Diggins-Smith, Taurasi and Nygaard.

“Didn’t mean to take away from Sky or any of the other All-Stars,” Nygaard said on Friday. “Our team is super excited for Sky. I apologize if my comments took away from that. If it was the other way around, I would stick up for Sky as well.

“We’ve addressed it as a team and we’re moving forward.”

The comments about the All-Star game on Thursday had been a departure from prior comments made about Diggins-Smith’s selection. On Tuesday the guard was named as one of 12 reserves for the game, which will take place in Chicago.

Ahead of the Mercury’s win on Wednesday night, Nygaard had called Diggins-Smith’s All-Star selection a “tremendous accomplishment” and that she was “really, really happy for Skylar.”

“She’s been having a great year statistically across the board for us, and everything she does for us battling every single game, I’m really happy to see Skylar being named an All-Star,” she said. “It’s a great testament not just to her, but our team.”

LOS ANGELES — For Jordin Canada, the celebrations were endless on Wednesday night. The point guard sank a key free throw with 16.8 seconds remaining and dished out a team-high six assists to help the Los Angeles Sparks to a 99-94 win over the Phoenix Mercury. As Canada eclipsed 500 assists for her WNBA career, the Sparks snapped a five-game skid with the victory.

She also celebrated a reunion of sorts with Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard. Nygaard, Canada’s former high school coach at the Windward School in the Los Angeles area, was named Phoenix’s head coach this offseason, making Wednesday the first time the pair met in the WNBA as player and opposing head coach. Fittingly, the reunion happened with Canada in a Sparks jersey, months after she signed with her hometown team in free agency.

“I love Va,” Canada said. “She has definitely helped me in my player development, especially in high school. She really helped me think the game a lot and not just base it off my athleticism … I can always count on her if I need to talk basketball or anything life. She’s been a great asset to my village and getting me to where I am today.”

At Windward, Canada and Nygaard won a state championship and three CIF Southern Section titles together, with Nygaard as associate head coach for Canada’s first two seasons before becoming head coach.

Nygaard’s first impression of the point guard was “how fantastically athletic she was.”

“I remember, as a freshman, seeing her run,” Nygaard said. “She didn’t look like a regular high school kid. Her speed and athleticism, and her quiet demeanor off of that. Her game is so big and so loud, and then she as a person is so humble and kind.”

The vision of Canada suiting up for a WNBA team started to materialize during her junior year of high school.

“Vanessa told me I was good enough to play in the league,” Canada said, “and that if I just worked hard and continued to practice and kept doing what I was doing, I would make it there. And I believed that. From that point on, my main focus was how I could get better to be ready for the league.”

The dream itself started years earlier, in the same arena where Canada played with the Sparks on Wednesday night. Canada and future high school teammates Courtney Jaco and Juice Powell would go to watch the Sparks as kids and picture themselves taking the court someday. Playing for two of the best club teams in California — Canada for the GBL Lady Rebels and Jaco and Powell for the Monterey Park Heat — pitted them against each other.

“We were rivals,” Powell said. “We weren’t friends.”

Still, they bonded over their love of basketball and a shared goal.

“All kids growing up in the inner-city in L.A. have a dream,” Powell said. “We all watch women’s basketball, and we all have this plan. We all were hoopers, and the plan was to go to USC, to go to the WNBA, to play for the Sparks, period. … This is the dream that’s keeping you going day after day, and Jordin did it.”

Jaco said that Canada always remained humble, even when younger kids started to idolize her and she became “the talk of L.A. in terms of girls basketball.”

“Not a lot has changed,” Jaco said. “She’s probably stepped out of her shell just a little bit. For the most part, she’s still the same reserved, collected person.”

In her early basketball days, Canada was used to being faster and more athletic than the competition. When she got to Windward, Nygaard encouraged her to take more of a mental approach to the game. The coach ran the Wildcats “like a college team,” Jaco said, with the players lifting weights, doing skill work and bonding exercises and competing in grueling practices.

“Vanessa challenged Jordin to be great every single day, which is a hard thing to do at such a young age,” Jaco said. “Sometimes you don’t feel like going to practice, that kind of stuff. She continually challenged her to be the best in all areas: the best point guard, the best leader.”

Off the court, Jaco remembered Canada as “just a goofy, regular high schooler” and “a really great friend to me.”

After Windward, Canada starred at UCLA while Jaco went on to play for crosstown rival USC, where she remains the Trojans’ all-time leader in 3-point percentage and second all-time in 3-pointers made with 217. The Trojans had plenty of experience with trying to defend Canada during her four years in the Pac-12.

“On offense, she started learning how to pick defenses apart,” said Jaco, now the director of player development for the USC women’s basketball team and video coordinator for the Connecticut Sun. “It was very hard to guard her. At USC, a big part of our scouting report was figuring out how we could get the ball out of her hands. That was really difficult. She’s really quick with the ball and with her dribble and can get out of a trap easily.”

Canada also became a “defensive pest” at UCLA, as Jaco described her. She was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year her junior and senior seasons.

Canada finished her UCLA career first all-time in assists and second in points, among many other accolades. The Storm drafted her fifth overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft, and in four seasons in Seattle, Canada won two championships while playing alongside legendary point guard Sue Bird.

“I learned how to be a pro in this league, what it takes to be a good point guard in this league,” Canada said. “She’s one of the best to ever do it at her position and in the game, period. Just seeing her day-in and day-out, how she approached the game, how she approached practice, how she prepared taught me so much.”

Canada won two WNBA championships in four seasons with the Seattle Storm. (Norm Hall/Getty Images)

With the Storm, Canada played a backup role for the first time in her career. Other than the 2019 season, when she started 29 of 30 games, Canada was often one of the first players off the Seattle bench.

“As a friend, it was interesting to see that transition for her,” Jaco said. “She’s always been a team player at all levels, but she had to sacrifice a lot and had never been in that position before. It took a while for her to embrace that, but over time, you could see more confidence. She’d come in and change the pace of the game.”

Canada took advantage of the opportunity to play for one of the WNBA’s best teams, enhancing her basketball IQ and relying on her defense – she earned All-Defensive First Team honors in 2019.

So, when Canada hit the free-agent market this past offseason for the first time, other teams were interested. Within just a couple of days of Seattle rescinding her qualifying offer, Canada was in talks to sign a one-year deal with the Sparks.

She signed with L.A. on Feb. 8, bringing her career full circle.

Starting in each of the Sparks’ first eight games, Canada is averaging career-highs in points (11.8) and field-goal percentage (44.2). She estimates that she had 50-plus friends and family members attend the Sparks’ May 18 home opener against the Minnesota Lynx.

“I remember being on this floor when I was younger, playing at halftime or before the game, and just watching the games and just imagining myself out there,” she said. “The fact that I’m back in my home city … I’m super blessed and humbled. I tried not to be too high that day, because I knew it was a big moment for me and also for my family and friends.”

“For a minute there, people didn’t know if the Sparks was a part of the plan,” Powell said. “But we knew, and it was just a matter of the call. We were always at Staples Center. It’s a full-circle moment in every sense. She did it, man. Built, not born, is a part of her. Jordin was definitely born with natural ability and talent like a lot of people, but she built this journey for herself.”

All three players know their basketball journeys might not have flourished as much as they did without Nygaard. None of them were surprised when she was named Mercury head coach this past offseason after playing five seasons in the WNBA and coaching since 2003, including two years as an assistant coach in the WNBA.

Nygaard is in her first season as a WNBA head coach. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

“I had seen Jordin after the (2021 WNBA) season,” Nygaard said. “She said, ‘When are you going to be a head coach?’ I said, ‘Give me three or four years,’ and it ended up being three months. She’s always been really supportive. She comes back to talk to the (Windward) team a lot. I have a great connection with her. She’s such a great icon for basketball in Los Angeles.”

The milestones of the past few months culminated in one special moment in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, 11 years after Canada and Nygaard first joined forces at Windward.

“It’s crazy,” Nygaard said an hour and a half before tipoff. “I don’t think any of us would have guessed that, when we were in the gym running layup drills and all the time we spent together, that we’re both here and doing our thing. I’m so proud of her and so happy for her to be back in L.A. with her parents, family, her brother and everybody here to celebrate her.”

Their history together also meant that Nygaard had a personal scouting report on Canada ahead of the game, in which her former star scored seven points to go along with the six assists in 21 minutes of play.

“Keep her in front,” Nygaard said of Canada. “Don’t let her get going in transition. Be really physical with her. And you can talk trash and touch her headband. She doesn’t like it when you touch her headband.”

After all, as Nygaard said earlier, “I’m forever her coach.”

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.

The Phoenix Mercury have hired Vanessa Nygaard as their next head coach, according to The Athletic.

The former Las Vegas Aces assistant is expected to be officially announced on Monday.

Prior to her coaching career in the WNBA, Nygaard competed in the league as a player from 1998 to 2005, following up a stellar collegiate campaign at Stanford. The Scottsdale native joins a growing list of WNBA players turned coaches, with 50 percent of the league’s teams now run by former competitors.

Nygaard began coaching in 2003, starting as an assistant at Cal State Long Beach before serving on Pepperdine’s staff for a season. Making the jump to the WNBA in 2008, Nygaard served on Dan Hughes’ San Antonio Stars staff and then as an assistant with the Washington Mystics in 2009. After leading Team USA youth teams in 2017 and 2018, Nygaard returned to the WNBA, joining the Aces as an assistant for the 2021 season.

The 46-year-old has been on league insiders’ coaching shortlists for some time, making the cut on Just Women’s Sports’ list of leading head coach candidates.

Nygaard replaces Sandy Brondello, whose contract with the Mercury ended at the beginning of 2022. Phoenix finished last year with a 19-13 regular-season record, falling to the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals.