65 at Indiana
by Tom Rietmann
Coach Lin Dunn liked what she saw. But then, what's not to like? Her Indiana Fever team's defense, after a wobbly start, held the Seattle Storm nearly 20 points under its average. Indiana's offense refused to buckle under Seattle's pressure. And the Fever wound up with a satisfying victory over the WNBA's top team.
“A great team win,” Dunn said after Indiana captured a 72-65 triumph Thursday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
A team win, indeed. Katie Douglas, who became the fourth Fever player in history to hit the 1,200-point mark (1,210), led Indiana scoring with 15 points. Tamika Catchings was the only other Indiana player in double digits with 12. But the bench players chipped in 25 points, playing a big role in a second-half run that turned the game, and also did their part on defense.
The Fever upped its record to 7-4 ahead of Saturday night's home game against Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta, and West-leading Seattle lost for only the second time in 11 games. And Indiana's defense, which warmed to its task, was the main reason.
“There's no doubt our defense in the second half was key,” Dunn said. “I thought our full-court pressure by the end of the game had worn them down some. They looked a little fatigued.”
Seattle's shooting percentages suggest as much. After the Storm hit its first five field goal attempts, shot 52.6 percent in the first quarter and opened a 10-point lead early in the second quarter, Indiana turned up the heat. Seattle shot 25 percent, 31.3 percent and 35.7 percent over the final three quarters. The Fever also forced 16 turnovers.
“We definitely didn't start the way we wanted,” Fever point guard Tully Bevilaqua said. “Seattle flew out of the gates, and we were like one or two steps behind. It took a timeout and obviously some stern words from the coach to get us going.
“We had to refocus. When we needed to get the stops and the rebounds, we did. You could definitely see the level of defense lift for us in the second half.”
Dunn didn't like the way her club was rotating on defense, so the coach opted for more switching. Players weren't communicating, either, and Dunn clearly communicated that during a timeout and again at halftime.
In the second half, Seattle missed 20 of 30 shots. Indiana outrebounded the visitors 22-17 in the final 20 minutes.
A game with six ties and 13 lead changes turned the Fever's way as the third quarter faded into the fourth. Indiana mounted a 16-2 run to grab an 11-point lead with 7:11 left in the game. Reserves Briann January, with five points in the stretch, and Jessica Davenport, with four, spurred the flurry.
“Our bench is playing tremendously right now,” said Catchings, who has hit 33 consecutive free throws, a franchise record. “They are giving us huge minutes, on defense and offense.”
Seattle pulled to within six (71-65) when Sue Bird connected on a 3-pointer with 1:30 remaining, but Bird would miss two 3-point attempts thereafter.
The Fever, last season's Eastern Conference champion, knew that beating Seattle at the Fieldhouse was significant. The Fever go on the road for four games after Saturday night's meeting with Atlanta.
“This was a big game for us,” forward Ebony Hoffman said. “(Seattle) is the No. 1 team in the league right now. We have to solidify ourselves and let everybody know we're the same team as last year.
“Our bench is better. We have to come out with better intensity and better play. We kind of lulled in the first few games of the season, and we have a few bad losses we shouldn't have had. Now we're to the point that everybody has been in practice, we're trusting each other more, and we're getting back to what we used to do.”
But the Fever players didn't want to lose sight of what's next: the East-leading Dream.
“It's a great win for us,” Bevilaqua said. “But now we go against Atlanta. We're chasing that top spot. We're at home, and we have to be looking to protect home court.”