The Phoenix Mercury practiced at the old
ballpark arena today for about an hour or so after returning to the valley of the 110 degree heat with a successful 4-1 road trip under their belts.
Coach Gaines is known for setting interim milestone goals so I was certain he had something in mind for this road trip. He seemed pretty happy with the results, "That met our goal. We talked among the coaches and 4 and 1 was what we were shooting for. We weren't expecting to lose to Atlanta but it happens."
Coach Corey didn't seem too upset about that blowout to a hot shooting Atlanta team and was much more pleased with the wins over conference rival Lynx and Storm teams.
As for the 17-6 drubbing the Mercury put on the Storm in the over time period, Gaines had this to say, "So I knew he (Seattle Coach Brian Agler) didn't have anymore timeouts so I wasn't going to call a timeout....The pace got to the point that...the more we pushed it the more tired they got so when it got to overtime I knew it was just a matter of time. They were exhausted."
Coach Gaines might even have a full squad available for Saturday's match up against the league-leading Indiana Fever. The Mercury haven't had 11 players in uniform since July 11th.
Nicole Ohlde (wrist) practiced today with her hand tapped but she didn't seem bothered at all. She will be evaluated by the team doctor after today's workout to determine if she's cleared to play on Saturday. Nicole certainly is anxious to go and told me that she's had enough injuries this season to last the next three years.
With Nicole coming back soon and Penny rounding into form the Mercury look strong for their their final 12 games.
When Penny Taylor made her return to Phoenix and was introduced to the fans and media, yours truly was in Vegas covering Micah Downs and Kaspars Brezins so this was my first opportunity to speak with the 2007 finals MVP.
"I love playing with the girls. I love the style of play and there's really nothing that I don't enjoy about being in Phoenix, so yeah, I am really pleased to be back," said Taylor.
Penny never considered playing for another WNBA team and had remained in contact with her friends Diana and Cappie throughout the early part of the season. Penny said that her main concern was to see how her ankle responded to the surgery and she didn't want to "put it out there" until she was sure that things went well with her recovery. The procedure was to tighten the ligaments which had become unstable after too many sprains suffered over her years of play.
Penny reports that the ankle is doing very well and feels great and "like a normal ankle".
Taylor's two games so far were the first she's played since April and while her 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting in 19 minutes of play on Tuesday might indicate otherwise, Penny still doesn't consider herself 100%. The team doctor has her limited to playing in 4 minute stints which is still a pretty solid stretch of floor time. For now, she's just working herself back into game shape and learning her new teammates.
As for her role on the team, both Penny and Gaines were vague about where she would play or if she would continue to come off the bench. But like they say, it's not who starts the game it's who finishes and we got a glimps of that in over time against Seattle.
Penny did say this about her time her in Phoenix, "As far as I'm concerned it's an opportunity for me to get back from injury. They're really helping me training, the trainer is really helping me rehab the injury. Just coming back slowly. Whatever is ahead of me is up to Corey and the coaching staff."
Asked to compare this team with the 2007 championship Mercury squad Penny seemed exited to play with Temeka Johnson and Le'Coe Willingham who she's never played with along with the dynamic young rookie Dewanna Bonner. She feels this team can win it all.
The Scoop on Cappie's Hair
I was personally floored when Cappie Pondexter chopped off most of her hair during the road trip. Not that I am turing into Tim Gunn or anything but most professional athletes tend to be very superstitious. Making a change like that when everything is going well seemed to tempt the fates.
Cappie didn't see it that way and explain it to me as if I were as dumb as a box of rocks that her hair doesn't impact her game. I guess when you are that good you don't need to worry about fate. Personally, I've always needed every little advantage I can get. Must be nice, Cappie!
- The Fever are a top defensive team and lead the league in steals per game (10.7), forced turnovers (19.0) and points allowed per game (71.8) while the Mercury are lapping the field on the offensive end with 92.5 ppg which is 10 points higher than the second ranked Lynx
- In the classic battle of offense vs defense Coach Gaines gave the standard, "the team that imposes its will on the other..." cliche. These cliche's exist for a reason
- The Mercury worked hard on their defensive rotations and communication in preparation for Katie Douglas and Tameka Catchings who lead their team with 17 and 14 points per game respectively
- The game marks the first return of Briann January to Phoenix where she lead the ASU Sun Devils for 4 great years. January is having a respectable rookie season with 5.5ppg/2.3apg in 18 mpg
- Diana Taurasi called the Fever (16-4) the, "best team in the league, hands down" but lets not forget that they've played most of their games against the weaker Eastern Conference and are only 2-2 against the West while the Mercury are 6-1 against the East
- Diana said the key was to come out with focus and confidence and not let down after the road trip
- Both Gaines and Taurasi talked about using Penny to help reduce the minutes for the team's stars going into the stretch run. These women play year round with no real off season and Diana admitted to being tired, a sentiment echoed by Coach Gaines
Next up the Fever on Saturday night. I might just have two tickets to give away (if my sister doesn't claim them). Let me know if you're interested.