77 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann
When the Indiana Fever's offense jumped the tracks on Wednesday, also derailed were the team's seven-game home winning streak and its positive vibes.
In the aftermath of a 77-68 loss to the Connecticut Sun, Indiana was left to grapple with the frustration of failing to win at Conseco Fieldhouse for the first time since May 15. The Fever shot only 32.4 percent from the field and went nearly nine minutes without a field goal in a tell-tale stretch late in the game. Plus, neither the star player nor the head coach was satisfied with the Fever's approach.
“I'm really disappointed in our team,” said forward Tamika Catchings, who led the Fever with 22 points, “because I feel like we didn't come out and take care of business like we knew we needed to.”
Coach Lin Dunn graded the game with some numbers. “I grade Connecticut a '10.' They just played like they were desperate for a win,” she said. “We played like a '7.' We played like we had achieved something and relaxed.”
The loss put the Fever record at 11-7 and their hold on third place in the Eastern Conference in peril. Connecticut, right on Indiana's heels, lifted its mark to 11-8. The defeat also sends the Fever into Friday night's home game against stalwart Atlanta (14-6) in even more of a “must-win” mode.
“We obviously didn't have a sense of urgency today,” Dunn said. “Hopefully, we'll bring that on Friday against a very good Atlanta team.”
The veteran Catchings is simply looking for a preparedness on Friday that wasn't evident Wednesday.
“As we look at the next 16 games (to finish the regular season) and making a playoff push, we need to put ourselves in a position where we're not HAVING to win games at the end,” said Catchings, who also led Indiana with nine rebounds and is now the 10th player in WNBA history with 2,000. “In order to get a cushion, in order to make it to the playoffs, we have to win games NOW. As a team we have to realize that every single day you have to be ready.”
The Fever was outrebounded badly early, but their problems shifted to shooting in the second half. Indiana shot 27.8 percent (10 of 36) in the final 20 minutes.
Indiana missed 12 field goal attempts in a row from 2:12 of the third quarter to 3:15 of the fourth. Connecticut went on an 18-4 run over that span and grabbed a 66-58 lead.
“I wasn't really aware of that lull,” said Fever guard Katie Douglas, shaking her head when told about it. “We have to do a better job as players of just knowing what we need, trying to exploit what you can. Going those nine minutes, we weren't exploiting much.”
Dunn said her team got too “perimeter-oriented” in the game. The Fever attempted 29 3-point shots, hitting just seven. And when Indiana did go inside, there were too many missed layups.
Indiana's bench, a strong suit all season, totaled just 19 points after scoring 50 in a win over Tulsa last week. Dunn said the reserves, like the starters, looked “a little lethargic.” Briann January led the reserves with 11 points, with nobody else having more than four.
Sandrine Gruda led Connecticut with 21 points while Tina Charles had 14 and former Fever guard Tan White added 10. The Sun scored 30 of their 77 points in the paint and outrebounded Indiana 41-34. The Sun's 41 boards were the most by an Indiana opponent this year and reflected a continuation of the Fever's rebounding woes.
“We need to look at this tape and learn from it,” Catchings said. “It's disappointing for me because it seems like every single game we lose we're making excuses. Even in the games we win, we know rebounding is still an aspect, but it kind of gets covered up a little more when we win. It's something we have to figure out. .... We have to pick it up on the rebounding end.”
A crowd of 10,076, the biggest for a Fever game at Conseco Fieldhouse since May 2008, went home with a sense of frustration. Dunn is hopeful her team feels the same way. “Hopefully, this will motivate our players and we can take our frustration out on Atlanta on Friday,” she said.