68 at Washington
By Tom Rietmann | July 9, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever scuffled through most of the first half Saturday night and trailed the tough-minded Washington Mystics by eight points at halftime.
Then things changed dramatically.
“In the second half, I thought we looked more focused,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said after her team packed away a 68-57 victory at Conseco Fieldhouse. “I thought we adjusted to the physical part of the game. I thought we did a better job of moving the basketball. And I thought our defense pretty much took over.”
The Fever stunned the visitors with 62.5 percent shooting in the third quarter. Indiana followed with 61.5 percent accuracy in the fourth quarter and combined it with fierce defense that mixed a matchup zone with man-to-man. Tamika Catchings made five steals in the quarter. The Mystics managed just seven points, the second fewest ever allowed by Indiana in a fourth quarter.
Dunn summed it up: “We got them out of whack.”
The victory was the sixth straight for the WNBA Eastern Conference-leading Fever (9-3), matching the second-best streak in franchise history.
Indiana took its first lead when Shavonte Zellous drove for a layup with 9:22 left in the fourth quarter. Zellous was just warming up. She later maneuvered the baseline for another bucket. Then she bolted from the pack for two fast-break baskets after Catchings poked the ball away from the Mystics.
“We were able to tip balls, get deflections, get steals and score easy baskets,” said Catchings, whose five fourth-quarter steals tied her own WNBA record for the most in one period. In the process, she also passed Los Angeles guard Ticha Penicheiro as the WNBA’s career steals leader. Catchings has 738 in 10 active seasons. Penicheiro, in her 14th year, entered a Saturday game on the West Coast with 736.
Indiana outscored Washington 14-2 to end the game. Washington went scoreless over the final 4:52.
At halftime, Catchings said, the Fever coaches and players talked about “the struggle” they were in as Washington played its unrelenting and aggressive style. The Mystics disrupted Indiana, holding the Fever to 32.3 percent shooting in the first half. They were outrebounding Indiana 23-16 at the half.
“Going into halftime, we weren't satisfied where we were,” said Catchings, whose final stats line showed six steals, three blocked shots, seven rebounds, 10 points and four assists. “It was like, OK, we have 20 minutes to pick up the intensity and turn things around.”
Point guard Erin Phillips led the Fever with 14 points. She had to deal with Kelly Miller's bumping defense most of the night and committed four turnovers with three assists.
“To their credit, they were just so physical,” Phillips said. “Defensively, they were pushing us out of the things we wanted to do. They were scrapping on every rebound. In the second half, we tried to make a conscious effort that our defense had to pick up.”
Said Dunn about Phillips' performance: “She did have a few turnovers, but I thought some of that was fatigue. When you're playing 36 minutes and you're being picked up full-court the entire game, that's tough.”
Katie Douglas scored 12 points. Zellous and Jessica Davenport each had 11. But as Douglas said afterward, it was defense, not offense, that won this one for Indiana.
“I think we have players here who understand the importance of finishing out a game,” the Fever guard said. “Anytime it's not going exactly as we planned on offense, we really just clamp down on defense.”
Dunn was happy to see her team battle back from what she called “a sluggish start.”
“I thought what (the Mystics) were trying to do was use their physical toughness,” Dunn said. “That's the way they play the game, to throw off our timing. I thought it worked in the first half. I thought we let it kind of throw us off. But I also didn't think we came out with the energy.”
Indiana forward Tangela Smith sat out with a bruised quad after suffering the injury at Thursday's practice. Dunn said Smith could return to the lineup Wednesday afternoon (1:00 p.m.) against visiting Connecticut.