57 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- Are there any questions now concerning the Indiana Fever's off-season acquisition of 34-year-old forward Tangela Smith?
“Now you know why we wanted Tangela Smith,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said after the Fever's 65-57 victory Saturday over visiting Chicago in the season opener. “And you know why I'm betting Phoenix wishes they still had her.
“She started the game just like we thought she would. She spreads the floor for us, she runs the floor, she defends. And she's just a great person to be around.”
Smith hit 6-of-13 shots, including 4-of-7 3-pointers, for 16 points with five rebounds. Her marksmanship, along with Katie Douglas' 19 points, helped to hold the Sky at bay on a night when the Fever's team shooting was just 30 percent (21-of-70).
“I took what the defense gave me,” said Smith, who won two WNBA championship rings during her stint in Phoenix. “Sometimes they were leaving me open. Maybe they were focusing on Katie and (Tamika Catchings) all the way. I think it worked out great.”
The Fever built a 14-point lead in the second half, but Chicago wouldn't go quietly. Epiphanny Prince, who led the Sky with 20 points, hit a 3-pointer to cut Indiana's lead to 57-54 with 3:50 left in the game.
But that's when Indiana went to work.
Douglas buried a 3-pointer. Then she added a layup off an over-the-head, no-look pass from Catchings, and later sank a free throw. Then Catchings scored on a driving layup.
The Fever enjoyed a 65-54 with 1:50 left.
Said Catchings, explaining her nifty pass to Douglas off a jump ball: “I saw Katie, (moving like) a streak behind the Chicago Sky. I thought if I could just throw it towards the basket, she'd get to it.”
Chicago managed only 35.1 percent shooting (20-of-57). But the home team had trouble putting the game away as it, too, struggled mightily at the offensive end.
“I thought there were times where we got some great looks and still were missing,” Dunn said. “But down the stretch, when we needed to execute, we did.”
Indiana point guard Briann January went 0-for-11 from the floor. But she persevered and contributed in other ways, collecting four assists and four steals.
“She did some wonderful things,” Dunn said. “We've challenged her to be a shooting point guard, and that's something we want her to do. ... They just didn't go down tonight.”
Defense rescued the Fever, which is only right, according to Douglas.
“No matter what happens, our identity is on the defensive end,” said Douglas, who had seven rebounds with her team-high 19 points. “Last year, I think we would just get so down on ourselves if our defense wasn't working. Tonight, (if ) they scored, we still had the mentality on the next possession to disrupt whatever they were doing. We did a good job of taking them out of their sets.”
Dunn concurred and singled out the play of center Tammy Sutton-Brown, who held Chicago's Sylvia Fowles to five shot attempts and 10 points.
“It was great to start the season off with a win,” the coach said. “I thought we did an awfully good job defensively. I thought we really disrupted the things they wanted to do.”