The Difficulties of Defending a Title

By Brad G. Faye, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: July 17, 2010

After capturing their first championship in franchise history in 2007, the Phoenix Mercury quickly found out how difficult it can be to defend a title. The team got off to a rough start in 2008, losing its first four games of the season and never fully recovering. Even with a red-hot September that saw the ballclub win four out of its final six contests, the team failed to qualify for the postseason.

Two years later, the Mercury are again defending a WNBA Championship, and according to center Tangela Smith, the experience of having been in this situation before has helped her prepare for the types of efforts she's been seeing from opponents.

“It’s really tough because everybody wants what we have,” Smith said. “They’re coming at us extremely hard and we’ve learned it’s important to match that intensity.”

This marks the second time the center has defended the WNBA crown as a member of the Mercury and said this group – one which consists of many newcomers - is now starting to understand the importance of coming out ready each and every night.

“I think the games we lost were games that we didn’t come out as hard as we could have but we’re starting to get it together,” Smith said. “We’ve just got to come out there every night and fight hard because these teams are coming at us with everything they’ve got.”

At the end of June, it looked as if the Mercury could again find itself in some trouble as the team lost its final five contests to close out the month. Following Saturday’s win against Tulsa, however, the team has looked better in July having now started the month 3-2. While that five-game record may not leap off the page, it's worth mentioning that those two losses came in the form of a triple-overtime defeat to the Western Conference leading Seattle Storm and a three-point loss to the Eastern Conference leading Washington Mystics.

“I think whether you’re defending the title or not, every team is good,” Mercury forward Penny Taylor said. “Obviously I feel people are really focusing every time they come into this gym because we are the defending champions, and it’s important to understand that wins aren’t going to come easy.”

Not with the team in 2008, this marks the first time Taylor has attempted to defend a title. It also marks the first such attempt for Mercury point guard Temeka Johnson, who joined the team in 2009.

“It’s extremely difficult taking the floor as the defending champions,” the playmaker told PhoenixMercury.com. “You’re getting a team’s best each and every night and that’s not to say that some teams don’t play as hard against other teams, but everybody wants what we have and we need to embrace that and prove that we want to keep it. For us, keeping it means matching a team’s best effort.”

UP NEXT

For the Mercury, Saturday's win helped the team improve to 3-0 against the Shock this season. Barring any meetings in the postseason, the two ballclubs will meet for the fourth and final time on Thursday.

The contest marks the first of three-straight games on the road for the Mercury who will then head to Minnesota before facing the first-place Storm on July 27. The contest which marks a rematch of the triple-overtime contest played in Phoenix this past Wednesday will be aired on ESPN 2.