Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, August 15, 2014

WNBA Feature: Phoenix Enjoying the View From the Top

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

The Phoenix Mercury are so versatile, deep, talented, driven, good, hilarious and focused that sometimes head coach Sandy Brondello has been known to get players confused during time out huddles.

Hey, with so many interchangeable pieces, it’s easy to scramble players at times.

“Sandy gets us the most confused between myself, BG (Brittney Grinner) and DB (DeWanna Bonner) when she draws up plays,” former Temple standout and Mercury forward Candice Dupree said Tuesday morning following the teams’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “You’ll see your initials on the board (in different positions from what Brondello is saying) and we’re like wait, ‘I am over here.’ We have to correct her every now and then because she’ll get our initials mixed up.”

Who could blame Brondello when the Mercury are functioning as a machine on most nights.

Dupree and Bonner can both stick jumpers, drive to the basket and finish strong around.

Griner, a force of nature in the paint, is a combination and bigger version of both Dupree and Bonner. All three players are lithe, nimble, quick and can do things at their size that many other players can only dream about.

Despite the occasional mix-up, the Mercury have been a juggernaut during a memorable 2014 season that has included the most wins in franchise history, a 16-game winning streak over a 45-day period and a current 14-game homecourt winning streak.

At 27-5 overall, Phoenix has an opportunity to set the WNBA record for most single-season wins by a team in league history if it can win its final two games Saturday against Los Angeles and Sunday against Seattle. The current mark is 28 wins set by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 during a 32-game schedule and tied by the Seattle Storm in 2010.

“There’s something to be said about special teams, chemistry and a connection that teams have and we seem to have that right now,” Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said. “That translates into winning games. We have to keep the momentum going and stay focused on every single detail and each game to reach our ultimate goal.”

Phoenix has all the pieces in place to finish the season with a purple-and-orange confetti shower next month.

All five of the Mercury’s starters rank in the top 25 in the league in field goal percentage, something that’s genuinely unheard of in basketball.

Taurasi, Penny Taylor and Dupree are three of top scorers all-time in WNBA history.

Griner has set a single-season record for blocked shots, dunked four times and has helped the Mercury allow a league-best 74.2 points per game.

Brondello has had her team prepared all season for nearly every situation. Erin Phillips, Shay Murphy, and Mistie Bass provide energy, experience and instant scoring off the bench.

While on the surface the season may have been appeared to be a smooth ride highlighted by their 18-double digit victories including Tuesday’s 76-64 triumph over the Liberty, the purplish-red beauty wound underneath of Bonner’s right eye told a different story.

Bonner caught an elbow playing defense during the Mercury’s 82-80 victory over the Lynx last Saturday.

“That was a tough game and whatever it took to win that one,” Bonner said. “It was a huge game for both teams because we know who won would have an inside track to home court advantage. It was definitely a mental thing for us (to win that game).”

The Mercury have had to fight for everything they have achieved this season which includes home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Many players agreed that defeating defending league champion Minnesota was a nice late season test to ace.

“It was a good test and we needed to get ready for the playoffs,” Dupree said. “We were more focused on winning because we wanted home court advantage. So we weren’t thinking about if they were in our heads or not. We just wanted to win whether it was by two or 20 points.”

Yet, through it all this season, the Mercury have thrived because they are a tight-knit group with tremendous chemistry who keep each other entertained.

Sometimes they’ll even make faces at players who are being interviewed like Bonner did to Dupree.

With Dupree trying to focus and answer questions, Bonner kept interrupting forcing Dupree to crack a smile and lose her train of thought. Bonner eventually walked over and started answering questions.

“We have so many people who are funny on this team,” Bonner said.

Phoenix cracks more jokes than a Kevin Hart standup concert when they are around each other.

Surprisingly to fans who just see Taurasi’s intense and fiery demeanor, she is the chief comedian of the Mercury according to several players.

When asked about that, Taurasi answered as only she can.

“On the court you got to have that killer mentality,” she said. “Off the court, you have to find a way to stay loose and make sure people are feeling good.

"I’ve learned that from being around some of the great players and coaches in this game.”

In college, her by-play with USA National Team coach Geno Auriemma at Connecticut, where she won three straight NCAA titles, were memorable.

For a team that loves being around one another and like to have fun, the Mercury locker room following their win over the Liberty was silent aside from the occasional pinging of text message and social media alerts being sent to their phones and reporters asking questions as players responded in low voices.

There was no wild celebration or champagne pouring after securing the best regular season record in the league.

Phoenix is focused on the ultimate prize.

It has had fun along the journey that starts for real next week.

Brondello has the luxury of resting players as she did when Taurasi and Taylor, the Mercury’s starting backcourt, sat out of Wednesday’s 96-82 setback to Atlanta, which could be the matchup for the finals if both teams advance through their conference semifinals and championships.

“I want to keep people in rhythm, Brondello said. “I want to be going into the playoffs in good form. Our goal for the rest of the season is to stay healthy, finish well and go into the playoffs in top shape."

When asked to describe her team, Brondello smiled.

“I would say they are focused and determined,” Brondello said. “Their will to win goes to another level when they step onto the court.

"They have a lot of fun together. You have the goofy players and the ones they make fun of. They have great chemistry." she added.

"They all have different personalities but they all mesh together so well. It’s been a special season and hopefully it continues.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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