Building Momentum at the Right Time

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: September 13, 2013

As several Mercury players eloquently stated after tonight’s game, the team seems to be building momentum at the absolute perfect time.

In the Mercury’s 82-61 win over the Silver Stars (Phoenix’s final regular season home game), the Mercury improved to 9-3 (.750) under Russ Pennell – the best 12-game start to a head coaching tenure in franchise history, and just one shy of the best start to a WNBA head coaching tenure overall. Phoenix was 10-11 (.476) before Pennell took over.

The last two regular season games (tonight against San Antonio and Sunday in Los Angeles) will have no impact on the Mercury’s playoff position. Thus, Pennell is balancing the need to stay healthy with the team’s desire to remain sharp heading into the playoffs.

“We want to play well and I think that is the hard part here because you want to get some people some rest,” said Pennell after the game. “But you do not want to pull your foot off the accelerator to the point where you are not getting good reps too. We have only had one practice in the last week because of this crazy schedule. Our games, we have to get better.

“Not only do we have to win, we have to get better. I thought we played long stretches of pretty good basketball.”

The Mercury returned to a season-high-tying five games over .500 for the second time this season (18-13, Sept. 10), and improved to 19-14 (.576) overall in 2013; Phoenix will have the opportunity to secure just the fourth 20-win season in franchise history (2000, 2007, 2009) in Sunday’s season finale in Los Angeles.

Phoenix won for the fifth time in six games since the club’s midseason “training camp” (extended practice time due to playing just two games in a 14-day span from Aug. 24-Sept. 6).

Diana Taurasi recorded her fourth career 20-point, 10-assist game, her second of the season, as well as her 11th career double-double, fourth of the season. Taurasi finished with double-digit assists for the fourth time this season, sixth in her career. Amazingly, she also tallied her sixth game of at least nine assists this season (31 games) after recording six in her first 269 career games (2004-12). Taurasi added her WNBA-best 19th 20-point game of the season.

Perhaps even more encouraging was the play of Penny Taylor. Still getting her wind back after returning from a knee injury, Taylor finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes of play.

“I think we are getting some momentum at the right time, when we need it,” Taylor said. “Defensively, I think we look like a really cohesive unit together. At times we were a really strong. I do not think they scored in the fourth quarter until very late. We are doing a good job. It is a matter of finishing it off sometimes with the rebounds, but I think we have made leaps. I feel good.

“Obviously, it is a process of getting the wind back in my lungs and feeling good. As far as my knees go, I feel great. It is a lot of fun to be out there.”

Phoenix now has held seven of 12 opponents under Pennell under 40 percent shooting from the floor after doing so six times in the season’s first 21 games.

Perhaps more significant, the Mercury have held three opponents to 65 or fewer points in 12 games under Pennell (tonight, Aug. 11 vs. Tulsa, Aug. 14 vs. Indiana). Phoenix had not held three teams to 65 or fewer points in an entire season since 2005, the last season the WNBA featured a 35-second shot clock.

Tonight’s victory led to the Mercury winning the season series against the Silver Stars (3-2) and earned consecutive home wins over San Antonio for the first time since June 6-August 13, 2009.

X-Factor

The Mercury have held three opponents to 65 or fewer points in 12 games under Russ Pennell (tonight, Aug. 11 vs. Tulsa, Aug. 14 vs. Indiana). Phoenix had not held three teams to 65 or fewer points in an entire season since 2005, the last season the WNBA featured a 35-second shot clock.

Quote of the Night: Brittney Griner

“This is the last regular season home game so we wanted to get that win and show this game did mean something to us. This was definitely good momentum going into the playoffs.”