Aggressive Play of Mercury Rising

By Kurt Pfannenstiel, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: June 15, 2009

“Be aggressive on both sides of the ball.”

These were the words that head coach Corey Gaines put up on the board before Saturday night’s game versus the Sacramento Monarchs. It was clear that the Mercury coach was disappointed in the intensity shown by his team during the Friday night match-up which resulted in a 90-71 defeat and the first loss of the season for Phoenix.

The message was certainly echoed by the Mercury players on to the court on Saturday as they hustled for loose balls, pulled in rebounds, and earned their way to the foul line. Winning the battle at the free throw line and being aggressive on the boards are the keys to beating the Monarchs and countering their scrappy style of play.

“They score in two different ways,” Gaines said of Sacramento. “They score on free throws and they score on offensive rebounds with put backs. If you can cut one of those two off, you can get them.”

In fact, the Mercury had improved in both categories over night. After shooting only 12 free throws in the first meeting, the assertive Phoenix team produced 27 attempts from the charity stripe. The tenacity also helped Phoenix on the glass where the Mercury - while still being out rebounded by three - were much more aggressive after being out rebounded by 11 the night before.

“Our game is up and down, but we can’t go up and down if we don’t get the rebounds,” Gaines said. “You have got to fight for the rebounds. We have got to get the ball, and then we go. That’s what we did differently.”

Le’Coe Willingham was one player who took her game to the next level Saturday night as she scored a career-high 26 points. She was leading fast breaks and making plays under the basket all night for the Mercury. Willingham attributed her success to watching film the night before.

“From the game yesterday, I watched film to see what I was doing because I knew I wasn’t playing my game,” Willingham said. “I told myself, I am going to play freely and I’m going to play with aggression. I wanted to come out aggressive and not wait to turn it on later.”

The Mercury were forced to turn it on later, however, as the game was pushed into overtime by some late fourth quarter threes by Nicole Powell and Kara Larson. Diana Taurasi meanwhile stepped up big for Phoenix, scoring eight of her game high 31 on in the overtime period. The night before, DT 3 had only scored 11 points and shot only 41 percent from the field.

“Sometimes it’s just things going your way,” the Mercury guard said. “When you play away, sometimes a team or player can be tentative.”

Tentative play certainly did not appear to be a problem for the Mercury on Saturday night. All five starters put up double-digits in the point column on a night where the Mercury scored a WNBA record 115 points.

The aggressive style of play could have been the force that drove the Mercury team to a better showing over night. Or maybe it was the “X-Factor” that gave them the extra push.

“Basketball is a funny game,” said Taurasi.

Isn’t that the truth.