After 0-3 start, coach drills reigning champs on ‘rover’ scheme

Mercury Use Downtime to Work on Chemistry, Defense

By Matt Paulson,
May 31, 2008

After sprinting to their first WNBA championship last year using an unconventional style of play, the Mercury have begun defense of their title in, well, an unconventional way.

They are the only reigning champion to start a season 0-3.

While frustrated by the trio of narrow losses — they’ve been by a combined 14 points — Phoenix is trying not to let them take a toll on its spirit.

“We’ve just got to stay positive because the bottom line is we can … still get another championship,” guard Cappie Pondexter said.

With 31 games remaining, there is plenty of time for the Mercury to step out of their pothole. And having gone the past eight days without a game, Phoenix has had sufficient time to solve the minor issues that cost them in the first week of the season.

Call it Training Camp, Part 2.

“This is our training camp,” coach Corey Gaines said. “We’re all on the same page now. We’re getting in shape, shooting in the right spots.”

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Gaines never had his full complement of players in camp, so he has used the past week to get his troops into better shape and more acclimated with each other.

“I think we needed it because our chemistry wasn’t quite there yet,” center Tangela Smith said. “I think we learned a lot during this week.”

The major teaching point has been rover, the Mercury’s zone defense.

“That’s our bread and butter,” Gaines said. “That what won us the championship last year. We had no chance to work on it until now.”

And it has showed. Phoenix is last in the league in points allowed (89.0) and opponent field-goal percentage (46.4). Rover, though, is not a simple defense.

“It took us last year until midway through the season to get it right,” Gaines said. “We’d win a game, lose a game, win a game, lose a game. It was the rover that wasn’t tweaked right.

“The rover is what we rely on to get us the wins.”

COPYRIGHT 2008, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.