73 vs Washington
By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- A half-minute into the game, Washington's Chasity Melvin rebounded a teammate's missed shot and flipped it in to give the Mystics a quick lead. The play provided a window to what the Indiana Fever would deal with the rest of the night.
Washington dominated the rebounding totals Friday night and captured a stunning 77-73 victory over the Fever at Conseco Fieldhouse. Washington outrebounded Indiana 44-21, and the difference of 23 boards was the biggest advantage for a Fever opponent in franchise history. The Mystics collected 25 second-chance points and 40 points in the paint.
The lopsided rebounding totals almost overshadowed a 33-point performance by Washington's Lindsey Harding, who scored her team's final 13 points.
“To say I'm disappointed is an understatement,” said Fever coach Lin Dunn, who has seen her team get outrebounded by 10 or more in each of four games against Washington this season. “I really thought we would play, board-wise, with a greater sense of urgency.
“(The Mystics) played with a desperation, with a sense of urgency, that we didn't have.”
First-place Indiana, with a chance to put some space between itself and its pursuers in the Eastern Conference, instead saw a heated race get even tighter. The Fever, which snapped a five-game winning streak, is 16-8 (.667). Second-place Atlanta, against whom Indiana will play on Sunday afternoon, is 17-9 (.654).
Washington, 14-10, refuses to be eliminated and won the season series against Indiana 3-1. That means any kind of tie with the Fever will go the Mystics' way, since head-to-head record is the first tiebreaker.
“They are just relentless,” Dunn said about the Mystics, who were led in rebounding by Crystal Langhorne with 11. “It's almost like they were born with that rebounding mentality.”
The Fever was led by four players with four rebounds. It wasn't nearly enough, even on a night when Indiana's trapping defense forced Washington into 25 turnovers. Dunn suggested that Indiana's problems on the boards stem from missed block outs as well as a failure to “value” the basketball.
Tamika Catchings, who tied Katie Douglas for Fever scoring honors with 16 points, knows something has to change if the Fever want to repeat as conference champion.
“Lin's suggestion was that we get together as a team and figure out what we want to do as far as not getting outrebounded,” Catchings said in a somber Fever locker room. “I just really think it's a matter of heart. I don't know what we're going to do, how we're going to solve this. But it has to be solved.”
Said Fever center Tammy Sutton-Brown, who scored 14 for her first double-figure game in the last 12: “This was one we gave away tonight.”
Washington's Harding did her part to take it away. The speedy guard scored 25 of her 33 in the second half, hitting 9-of-13 shots in the final 20 minutes.
In a game of runs, Indiana used an 11-5 spurt to take a seven-point lead (71-64) with 5:08 left in the game. That's when Harding assumed control, outscoring Indiana 13-2 by herself the rest of the way.
“Lindsey Harding took it to another level,” Dunn said. “It's almost like she decided to take over the game, put her head down and say, 'I'm going to the rim. Does anybody want to stop me?' ''
Nobody could stop her.
“I'm competitive and I just feel I can match up with anybody when I'm at full speed,” said Harding, whose totals included 9-of-9 from the free throw line. “I just wanted to attack and attack.”
Once again, Indiana showed a tendency to let leads slip away. After nearly blowing a 21-point lead in a win over Chicago earlier in the week, the Fever frittered away an 11-point edge Friday night.
“I think we play with a greater sense of urgency when we're down, when we're clawing our way back,” Dunn said. “We're certainly not handling being in the lead very well.”
She hopes that trend will end in Sunday's important game at Atlanta.
“It's whoever brings that sense of urgency every night,” Dunn said.