Mercury Beats Shock in Pennell's Debut
“You can win a lot of games just grinding it out. You might not shoot the ball well, but if you play hard and with defensive intensity you have a chance to win.” – Phoenix Mercury Interim Head Coach Russ Pennell
That quote came from Russ Pennell in our 30-minute talk on Thursday, August 8 after he was named Phoenix Mercury Interim Head Coach.
Sometimes, the irony speaks for itself.
In tonight’s game against the Tulsa Shock, the Mercury didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (41 percent) but they did exactly what Pennell unconsciously forecasted (i.e. grinding it out) in a huge 70-67 win.
Pennell became just the third coach in franchise history to win his/her debut, the first since 2002 (Cheryl Miller – 1997; Linda Sharp – 2002) as the Mercury improved to 2-1 in its season-long five-game homestand.
“It was fun,” Interim head coach Russ Pennell said after the game. “I really enjoyed the energy in the arena; the fans were great. I thought the ladies played extremely hard. One of the things we are really trying to get across right now is to up the effort on the defensive end and I thought it was very appropriate; we had to win it on the defensive end.
“We made some careless mistakes that we have to correct, but overall I could not be more pleased with the effort and the attitude.”
Remarkably, Phoenix won in Pennell’s debut with just 70 points. Phoenix had been 0-9 (.000) this season when being held below 80 points.
Perhaps more significant was the Mercury’s second-half defense – Phoenix held Tulsa to just 10-of-28 (.357) from the floor, leading to a season-best tying 29 opponent points given up in the second half. The Mercury also tied their season-high with 10 steals in tonight’s game, nine of which came in the second half.
Even more encouraging, the Mercury out-rebounded the Shock 40 – 25 and limited them to just eight second chance points compared to a season-high 16 for Phoenix.
“The thing I tried to give them from an offensive standpoint was to play a little freer,” said Pennell. “Every team has to run set plays, but you also know that the other team knows your set plays and you have to be able to [have variations] off of that.”
Diana Taurasi scored 23 points on 7-of-16 shooting, her 13th 20-point game of the season and her sixth such game in the last eight. Taurasi is now just 14 points away from reaching 6,000 for her career. Her play in the fourth quarter sparked the Mercury on both ends of the floor, including a jumper with under two minutes left to give the Mercury a two-point lead.
“She is the best player in the world,” Pennell said about Taurasi. “I am not the smartest coach in the world but I do know she can play and we try to get her the ball in clutch moments for sure.”
Candice Dupree recorded her fourth 20-point game of the season with 20 points on 10-of-16 shooting, giving her a Mercury season-high 13 consecutive double-digit scoring performances (previous 12, Diana Taurasi). Dupree shot 62.5 percent from the field, her sixth game this season shooting at least 60 percent. She also had a season-high two blocks to go along with nine rebounds.
“It just felt good to get the win,” Dupree said. “We’re still learning what Coach Pennell wants to do and that will come with more time.
“I think we got off to a good start.”
Phoenix held Tulsa to just 10-of-28 (.357) from the floor, leading to a season-best tying 29 opponent points given up in the second half. The Mercury also tied their season-high with 10 steals in tonight’s game, nine of which came in the second half.
Quote of the Night: Taurasis on Corey Gaines
“I mean it is definitely going to be different. Corey has been here for eight years, he has been here for my whole career. Dewanna and I were talking about it and he has been her only coach. He is family to me. I would do anything for Corey, but you know the business of sports. He will be fine he is a great coach and an even better person.”