Scouting the Sparks with Julie Hairgrove

By Ben York,
Posted: September 17, 2013

One of the many responsibilities that Julie Hairgrove has as an Assistant Coach for the Phoenix Mercury (her ninth season with the organization) is to provide a detailed scouting report on every opponent the team plays.

The multi-page report goes over offensive and defensive sets for the opposing team, potential match-ups to take advantage of, and numerous keys to the game for the Mercury.

Indeed, her report goes into far more detail than we’ll share here, but Hairgrove was kind enough to give the abridged version. During the 2013 regular season, the Mercury and Sparks split the series at two games apiece. In those games, the winning team averaged 90 points. In those four games, Taurasi averaged 24.3 ppg while Candace Parker posted 19.3 ppg. What do you and the coaching staff feel are the strengths of this year's Sparks team?

Julie Hairgrove: The Sparks are really good in transition. Because of that, it’s imperative that we get back on defense so they do not get easy baskets. They shoot the ball well from the field at 48 percent and beat their opponents on the glass.

Plus, they’re a team that has been playing some really good basketball down the stretch and they certainly play very well at home. Candace Parker is one of the most versatile players in the WNBA and does a little bit of everything for the Sparks averaging 17.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. She is a tough player for any team in the league to guard because she can play every position on the floor. How do you and the coaching staff prepare the team with so little turn-around time from the regular season to the playoffs?

Hairgrove: We prepared for the playoffs in each of our 34 regular season games. We practiced to get better as a team every day. Lately, though, we really haven’t had much practice time especially in the past couple of weeks due to our hectic travel schedule. So the two days of practice that we’ll have before Game 1 in Los Angeles will be big.

During these practices, we’ll need to make sure our players understand our rotations on defense and will go over the Sparks’ plays and tendencies as well. We’ll then concentrate on our offensive sets and what we want to look for on that end of the floor. What do you and the coaching staff feel are the greatest strengths of this year's Mercury team?

Hairgrove: Obviously, we have some pretty good players. But since Russ Pennell has taken over we have placed more of an emphasis on defense and beating people on the glass.

This Mercury team is very good at scoring in the open court and has a good inside/outside attack. But most of all, we want to play hard-nosed defense and use our size to our advantage. Fill in the blank: As a team, the Mercury has to __________ in order to beat the Sparks.

Hairgrove: Play great team defense. The Sparks have some amazing offensive threats on their team, especially Candace Parker, Kristi Toliver and Nneka Ogwumike.

We want Parker to play away from the basket and certainly do not want Toliver to get open looks from 3-point range. Furthermore, we cannot allow Ogwumike to get offensive rebounds and put-backs.

Winning Game 1 would be huge for us. It would allow us to set the tone early then come back home to the best fans in the WNBA for a chance to advance.