With injured Sylvia Fowles again watching from the bench, the Lynx went small again Friday night.
One of the surprises of the first half of the WNBA’s 22-game season being played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., the Lynx have been starting the youngest starting five in the league — 24.9 years of age and 1.8 seasons of experience, on average, since Fowles hurt her right calf.
And youth was the difference again.
With a balanced performance that had just about everybody contributing at some point, with the veteran Phoenix Mercury doing as much complaining as playing, in a choppy game that featured 74 free throw attempts, it was youthful Lynx that kept their cool in a 90-80 victory at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
The Lynx have won three straight — and 14 of the past 15 regular-season games against the Mercury. At 9-3, they remain in a tie for second place in the WNBA.
“It was important,’’ Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of the balance; four of five starters scored in double figures.
In chronological order:
• Bridget Carleton (14 points, five rebounds and six assists) and Damiris Dantas (19 points, six rebounds, three assists) were a combined 9-for-9 — and 5-for-5 on threes — for 25 points as the Lynx built a 51-42 halftime lead.
• Napheesa Collier (20 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four steals) scored 11 of her points in the third quarter, as the Lynx lead grew to 11 entering the fourth.
• And then Crystal Dangerfield (19 points) scored seven points in the fourth quarter, taking control of the game when it got a bit tight.
“We had great balance,’’ Collier said. “Our starters did a lot of great stuff, just making easy basketball plays, finding people where they want to score. We did a great job of doing that.’’
Ultimately, it was Dangerfield, again. The rookie taken in the second round scored in double figures for the ninth straight time.
Phoenix had pulled within four on Skylar Diggins-Smith’s three-pointer with 4:10 left.
Dangerfield was fouled and made one of two free throws. Then she stole the ball. At the other end she drove hard to the basket, scored and was fouled. Her free throw with 3:16 left put the Lynx back up eight and back in control.
“She has gotten herself on-the-job training,’’ Reeve said. “That is just a player who is embracing running our team. She has a really good handle on things, she’s a really good communicator. And they really trust her.’’
With reason. In her past three games, Dangerfield has averaged 20.7 points, hit 22 of 40 shots, nine of 16 three-pointers and dished 10 assists.
But she didn’t do it alone Friday. Collier hit two free throws with 2:44 left to keep the lead at seven. Moments later Carleton scored and the lead was nine. Dantas hit a difficult step-back with 1:08 left to keep the lead there.
Carleton has averaged 9.3 points, six rebounds and three assists the past three games, all starts with Fowles out.
“Just a fun story,’’ Reeve said.
The Star Tribune is not traveling to Florida for NBA and Lynx coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.