PHOENIX — Sandy Brondello and the Phoenix Mercury coaching staff knew they needed to get more shots out of their starting guards.
So what did assistant coach Penny Taylor tell Yvonne Turner ahead of Phoenix’s May 31 home opener against Las Vegas?
“I actually made a deal with Coach Penny and she told me she’ll tell me when I’m shooting too much,” Turner said.
Turner matched her WNBA career high with 18 points, and fellow starting guard Brianna January added 15 points on a perfect 5-for-5 night from the 3-point line, helping lead the Mercury to a 86-84 win over the Aces on Friday night.
“In our first game, we didn’t play anywhere near where we’re capable of at both ends of the floor, but it really has to start with defense,” Brondello said. “This week, we had a good practice, but credit to the girls. It’s a team effort.”
In the first game without Diana Taurasi, January and Turner combined for just seven shot attempts and only scored nine points as the Mercury lost 77-68 to the Seattle Storm on May 25. Brondello emphasized that the best way to compliment the other two stars – Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner – is to not be afraid to shoot the ball.
“We all can be a scoring threat, and she wouldn’t say that if we weren’t capable,” January said. “We have five people on the floor that can score the ball and are very talented, so we need to use all of our talents and it’ll make everybody’s job easier. It’ll get the ball to BG easier, it’ll get DeWanna open shots. Just have to be on the front foot, like Sandy always says.”
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January was especially crucial in the second quarter, right after the Aces had gone on a 14-0 run to take the game’s biggest lead at 12. January made three 3-pointers, with Turner adding four points of her own, in the Mercury’s 13-2 response run to make it a one-point game at halftime. It was the aggressiveness Brondello was hoping to see out of January.
“After the first game, I said, ‘Bri, you need to shoot the ball more,’” Brondello said. “And she still only had six shots. This is crazy — I think she needs to be up more around the 10. But it’s just high efficiency. She was open, there was no hesitation.
“It’s all about preparation. She’s a great 3-point shooter, and the key for us is, if she’s open, she needs to shoot it.”
Turner added, “Bri, she’s experienced. When she has to step up and make plays for us, she does that. She follows through with that. She’s a great shooter, and tonight she hit those big shots for us and got us back in the game.”
But Turner truly lit up the box score, picking up 10 assists to go along with the 18 points. For the longtime overseas player who has found an American home with Phoenix, a night like tonight shows why Phoenix has valued her as their third guard behind Taurasi and January.
“She just let the game come to her,” January said. “She wasn’t overthinking it, she just went out there and played. That’s literally what everybody tells her every day, to just go out there and feel it. We know what she’s capable of, she’s a great basketball player. I’m so happy for the way she played today.”
Brondello added, “I need Vonnie to be Vonnie. She’s best when she’s playing [instinctively] and I think she did that tonight in being creative. She still had 10 assists, so she is a good passer and she made some good decisions.”
Even on a night where Bonner was a bit off, with 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting, Phoenix still had all five scorers in double figures thanks to Griner (who had 18 points), forward Essence Carson (a game-high 20 points) and its two guards. It’s a formula that can not only help ease the burden on Griner and Bonner, but also set the team up for when Taurasi returns from her back injury later this season.
“It’s hard to guard when everybody’s in double figures,” January said. “That’s where we want to stay. We don’t want to put the load on their two shoulders. That’s easy to guard, when you have two players you need to stop. When you have five, it changes the game for you.”
Turner added, “With other scorers out there, it helps release some pressure from DB [Bonner] and BG [Griner]. When D [Taurasi] comes back, it’s going to release some pressure from them.”
And Turner admitted that the green light from Taylor and the coaching staff made a difference in how she approached the night.
“It helps out a lot, when a coach tells you to shoot instead of, ‘Don’t shoot the ball,’” Turner said. “I’m very happy she had the confidence in me to do that tonight.”
And, given the deal Turner made with Taylor, I had to ask: had the assistant coach told her she had shot too much?
“Nope,” Taylor said. “Not yet, not yet.”
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