57 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann
By pro basketball standards, it was a run of staggering proportions. The Los Angeles Sparks couldn't stem the flow of points coming from the Indiana Fever.
The Fever, in survival mode early, ratcheted up their energy after halftime Thursday night and stunned the Sparks with a 25-2 scoring binge. The Sparks failed to score a field goal in nearly 10 minutes, missing 13 shots. Indiana converted a one-point deficit at halftime into a 76-57 rout in a game that propelled the Fever into sole ownership of first place in the WNBA Eastern Conference.
"I think it was our intensity," forward Ebony Hoffman, who led the Fever with 16 points and eight rebounds, said in an attempt to explain the difference in the halves. "We were just more alert (in the second half). We were in the right spots. We rotated well. We disrupted them from what they wanted to do."
The victory lifted Indiana to 14-7 ahead of Saturday night's road game against the Washington Mystics, who are second in the competitive East. It was Indiana's third straight win and fifth in six games.
Fever coach Lin Dunn started reserve point guard Briann January in the second half after Tully Bevilaqua went zero-for-four from the field in the first half. The Los Angeles defense was providing some good looks, but Indiana needed an igniter after hitting just 14-of-38 shots (36.8 percent) before halftime.
Handed the keys to the offense, January operated it nicely. She scored six points with two rebounds and two assists in the third quarter. She also helped Indiana hold Los Angeles to 3-of-12 shooting (25 percent) and force eight turnovers in the period.
Afterward, January played down her accomplishments. "Tully and I back each other up. We complement each other," January said. "At the time (Dunn) just called my number. You have to be there and be ready.
"What we really did was slow it down and start running through our sets and really execute. We were just getting good shots and not rushing things. Lin was telling me constantly, 'Run your team, run your team. Get them organized.' '"
It worked in the third quarter and carried to the fourth. Indiana outscored Los Angeles (6-16) by 20 points after halftime and held the Sparks to 6-of-26 shooting (23.1 percent). Los Angeles committed 14 turnovers in the final 20 minutes.
"Our energy from our defense really helped us," said Dunn, who also liked the ball movement. Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom stated it simply: "It's hard to win games when you shoot 6-for-26."
January's 11 points and Jessica Davenport's 13 helped Indiana's reserves outscore the Sparks' subs by 32-5. It marked the Fever's seventh game of 30-plus points from the bench, a franchise record. Indiana's Tamika Catchings, drawing extra defensive attention most of the night, took only six shots from the field, making three. She totaled 11 points, six rebounds and six assists.
"Every single time I got the ball ... a double team," Catchings said. "Instead of trying to be selfish, you just have to figure out where the open man is. Fortunately, we were able to get the ball moving around and hit a lot of our shots."
For Hoffman, it marked her fourth straight outing in double-digit scoring after an uneven start this season. She has eliminated red meat from her diet and added a bounce to her step. Her 16 points included a couple of 3-pointers during the 25-2 run, during which she led the Fever with eight points.
"The confidence is high right now," Hoffman said. "My teammates have really helped me with that. They've really continued to just let me shoot the ball, getting me the ball where I can be successful. They've just been encouraging me."
-- Joy Cheek, Indiana's third-round draft pick who was cut late in training camp and re-signed recently, made her official WNBA debut. She finished with seven points on 2-of-2 shooting from the floor, including a 3-pointer. "Quality minutes," Dunn said of the nine that the rookie forward played. "I thought she settled a little bit for more outside shots when she could have gotten down inside. I thought she did a really good job for us. She is a force in there. We need to get her the ball."
-- Indiana's Shavonte Zellous was on the bench in civilian clothes, sidelined with ankle tendinitis. Zellous is averaging 6.1 points this season.
-- The Purdue women's basketball program had something of a reunion Thursday night at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Fever's Dunn coached the Boilermakers from 1987 to '96, including a trip to the Final Four in 1994. Carolyn Peck, who handled the commentary on ESPN2's telecast of the Sparks-Fever game, coached Purdue in the late 1990s and led the Boilermakers to the national title in '99. Fever star Katie Douglas was a standout on Peck's title team. Sparks reserve Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton was drafted out of Purdue following the 2008-09 season.