Taylor Is Ready to Weather Storm

By Stefan Swiat, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: Aug. 23, 2007

As the Mercury prepare to duel with the Seattle Storm in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs, they hope to have a gain of good fortune from their lucky “Penny.”

When Penny Taylor arrived in Phoenix in 2004, she was well known internationally, but a little unfamiliar to fans of the WNBA. Since then, things have dramatically changed, with Taylor’s name being mentioned among the league’s MVP candidates

The turning point of her career seems to have occurred when she propelled Australia to a gold medal in the 2006 FIBA World Championships, taking home MVP honors along the way. That breakthrough performance was followed by a successful offseason playing abroad in Italy, which spilled over to her early season success with the Mercury this summer.

"Last year, we had to learn to become comfortable within coach's up-tempo system," Taylor said. "We finished the season with seven straight wins, so we just carried that chemistry over into this season."

With last season’s leading scorer, Diana Taurasi, out with an injured knee, Taylor flourished in the spotlight, leading Phoenix in scoring for most of the season.

Earning her second All-star appearance, Taylor finished the season second on the team in scoring and rebounding, while leading the Mercury to the best record in their history. She posted career highs of 17.8 points and 6.3 rebounds, while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Taylor believes that her individual improvement as well as the team’s development can be attributed to Coach Paul Westhead’s free-flowing type of play.

“On offense this is the most fun I’ve had in the WNBA," Taylor said. "It’s really fun playing a style which allows us to run. Teams know what we’re trying to do, but they can’t keep up with us.”

Taylor's point production this season is four points a game higher than last season and five points a game greater than her career average. Although she credits Coach Westhead's system first, she cites a growth in confidence as well as her switch from power forward to small forward as other factors behind her improved statistics.

"Playing the four in this type of offense allows me to get into the lane a little more and penetrate against bigger players," she noted. "It's a great advantage for me."

While utilizing her quickness on the perimeter and causing mismatches on the break, she has continued to play strong underneath the boards. Taylor posted a career high in rebounding, corraling 6.3 boards a night.

With the first round of the playoffs tipping off on Friday, it seems as if Taylor and Co. can’t be stopped. They have won 11 their last 12, claiming the top seed in the Western Conference.

However, the All-Star triumvirate of Taylor, Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter will have to remain wary of Seattle’s two All-Stars, Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. The Storm took two out of the three contests from the Mercury this season, despite finishing six games behind Phoenix.

The key to the series could be the Mercury's ability to contain Taylor's Aussie friend and national teammate, Jackson, who led the WNBA in scoring during the regular season.

“I don’t think you can really stifle a player like Lauren,” the Mercury forward said. “We can take away open looks and try to stop her drives to the right and force her left, but with so many weapons, all you can do is try to take away what she likes best. I hope I can put pressure on her by attacking her on the offensive end and make her use some defensive energy. Or maybe I can distract her by making her laugh.”

Despite Taylor’s humility, Seattle has good reason to be concerned. The Mercury have made vast improvements on the defensive end since last season and have really peaked recently. In their last game, they held the Monarchs to a season-low 28 percent shooting. The Mercury are also 12-1 when holding opponents under 80 points, a feat they have accomplished four out of their last nine contests.

“Defensively, we were a little up-and-down early in the season, but now I feel really confident about getting stops when we need them because we all have each other's backs," Taylor explained. "We know to clog up the middle of our zone and get out to the shooters on the wing.”

With the emergence of Taylor and Phoenix clicking both offensively and defensively, Friday could be a real sleepless night for Seattle. Game 1 airs on at 7 p.m. on NBA TV.