Going into tonight's game San Antonio's Becky Hammon was leading the WNBA with 20.7 point per game while the Mercury's Diana Taurasi was a close 2nd with 20.4. That ranking changed as Taurasi stepped up to the challenge on both ends of the floor. Taurasi held the highly talented Hammon to 7 points on 12 attempts while scoring a team high 29 points on the offensive end.
Coach Corey Gaines said that he gave Taurasi the defensive assignment on Hammon after watching bigger players have success against the speedy 5'6" scoring guard in the Russian league. "I think her defense was more a factor in the game than her offense," said Gaines about Taurasi's play.
For her part, Diana joked about overtaking Hammon for the scoring lead, "That was my whole goal coming into tonight." She went on to add this about the match up, "That's a big part of what they do, having Becky being able to break defenses down, score, and get people involved. We were able to take one part of it away tonight."
While Taurasi was locking up the Silver Star's offensive engine, the Mercury front line of Tangela Smith (Center) and Le'Coe Willingham (Forward) struggled to contain Sofia Young (Forward) and Ann Wauters (Center) in the first half. The two Silver Stars combined for 26 points on 80% shooting. Wauters was able to dominate Smith in the low block while Young who finished the game with 29 points, showed her versatility facing up and driving as well as shooting from mid range.
The game was close through the first two quarters with the Mercury taking a four point lead (49-45) into the locker room at the half. Coming out for the third quarter the Mercury stepped up the intensity and increased the pace which helped negate Wauters who only scored 2 points in the second half.
Phoenix outscored the Silver Stars 29 to 17 in the third period with excellent performances on both ends of the floor. The Mercury defense held San Antonio to 35% shooting and forced 7 turnovers leading to 11 points while on the offensive end the Mercury didn't turn the ball over once and shot 60% from the field.
Diana Taurasi called it the best quarter the team's played all year but her close friend and running mate Cappie Pondexter disagreed, "No, I don't think so but it was a good run for us. Well you know Diana...We go to the restaurant and she thinks ever meal is a good meal. That's the thing about Diana. So, if she says it was the best third quarter we've had then ok. But no, honestly I don't think it was. I still think we have more to come. I think we can play a lot better than we did in that third quarter." If I'm a fan of another team reading that I am more than a little nervous.
Overall, Cappie feels the team still needs to step up the intensity and focus on each and every possession and with the playoffs coming is going to try to lead her team to that level through her own play in the game and in practice.
"When the playoffs come we have to get to that level. There's no excuses. There's no, 'we'll get it next game'....Hopefully we can continue to learn in these next ten games," explained a serious and somber Pondexter.
Cappie feels that 80% of that improvement is in the energy and effort aspects of the game because at this level the X's and O's are second nature. She agrees that the team is still working to incorporate Penny Taylor and Nicole Ohlde back into the rotations but still feels like the opportunity for improvement is in the consistent intensity level and focus.
The Mercury defeated the Silver Stars 95 to 83 to improve their lead in the Western Conference to 3.5 games as both Seattle and Minnesota lost their games today.
- Diana Taurasi started defensively on Becky Hammon from the opening tip and except for the occasional switch off a screen remained glued to her for the entire game. Hammon finished with 7 points on 2 of 12 shooting. She still had 8 assists in the game
- San Antonio came out of the gate with more energy picking up the first three rebounds and getting out to a 15 to 10 lead at the 6 minute mark
- The Mercury closed the quarter strong sparked by an 11-0 run in the next four minute stretch. The Mercury ended the 1st with a 26-23 lead and a 6 to 5 rebounding advantage
- In the final seconds of the first quarter, Silver Stars head coach Dan Hughes was ejected for arguing a 3 second violation call. He said after the game that all he said was, "why" but since it happened right in front of me at the scorers table I can report that he said a bit more than that
- He argued the call vehemently and was warned by the referee to let it go and then on the next stoppage came out to ask the other official about the call and was T'd up. He reacted strongly to that and was quickly ejected. He said it was the first time in his career he'd been tossed from a game which I find hard to believe given how he reacted to what was a pretty routine play
- Tangela Smith had two blocks in the game which gives her 46 on the season and easily puts her in the league lead for that category. She is now only two blocks away from becoming only the 4th player ever to record 500 career blocks
- With the game tied 41-41 with about 3 minutes left in the half, the Mercury went on a 8 - 4 run to close the period strong
- Coming off a 29 to 17 point 3rd quarter, the Mercury let down to start the fourth. San Antonio went on10 - 1 run in the first 4 minutes with no timeouts called by the Mercury
- Coming out of an official timeout at the 5:50 mark the Silver Stars closed what was a 16 point gap to 5 before Cappie and Diana scored 6 of the next 9 points to extend the lead back to 12 and secure the win
- During the Silver Stars 4th quarter run, the Mercury defense was flummoxed by a smaller San Antonio line up which Coach Gaines said was his fault. He said he adjusted his defense to help prevent inside scoring from the Silver Star bigs and gambled by allowing outside shots which the Stars, especially Erin Perperoglou and former Mercury player Belinda Snell started to hit
- Cappie Pondexter blamed the Silver Stars run on her team's lack of focus while Diana Taurasi credited the Stars for being a talented team that was going to make a run at some point
- Sofia Young, 29 points on 12-23 shooting, 8 rebounds and 3 assists was unstoppable by any of the Mercury defenders she faced in single coverage
- Dewanna Bonner again showed her energy and hustle saving three balls from going out of bounds during the 3rd quarter. She continued to show improvement offensively as finished better at the rim and was a more efficient 50% from the field for 11 points on the night. While I don't have the statistics to show this, it certainly seems like she gets more of her points in the second half of games
- Neither team shot well from behind the arc: 22% for San Antonio and 25% for Phoenix
- San Antonio out-rebounded the Mercury 43 to 31 with most of that gap coming in the second half (26 to 12)
- The Mercury were aggressive going to the rim and were able to get 8 points from Nicole Ohlde in the post in her first game back since breaking her wrist. Phoenix outscored the Silver Stars 58 to 40 in the paint
- I believe that Nicole's ability to get high percentage baskets and her size and mobility will be a big benefit to this team once she's able to get back into a rhythm and the rotations become more consistent
These two teams play again in two days in San Antonio to close their season series which the Mercury currently lead two games to one. The game Saturday starts at 5pm Arizona time and will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports Arizona at the delayed time of 9:30pm.
Post game interview with Cappie Pondexter (full audio)