78 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- Shyra Ely, a hometown favorite, enjoyed a break-out game Wednesday for the Indiana Fever.
Ely, a former standout at Indianapolis Ben Davis High School, turned in her best performance of the season as she scored 10 points and played strong defense in Indiana's 90-78 victory over the Connecticut Sun. Eleven of Ely's family members and friends were among an enthusiastic crowd of 9,045 at Conseco Fieldhouse.
A few days ago, Fever star Tamika Catchings kidded Ely about her quiet and shy demeanor in the locker room. Ely went out and did her talking on the floor.
“It's still pretty new for me, and I'm still adjusting,” said Ely, who is a five-year veteran of the WNBA but a first-year player with the Fever.
Ely smiled when reminded of the conversation with Catchings. “I told her to enjoy it while she could,” Ely said, “because once I get comfortable, you're going to want to shut me up.”
Indiana (10-3) won its seventh consecutive game, which is the second-best streak in franchise history, and owns the top record in the WNBA. The Fever connected on 11-of-17 3-pointers for a 64.7 percentage that was a franchise record.
The Fever also put six players in double figures for the third time in franchise history. Ely, who hit 4-of-6 shots, became the 10th different Fever player this season to score in double figures. Her previous best scoring game for Indiana was five points.
Nobody on the Indiana team puts in more time on the practice floor than Ely. She arrives early and stays late for extra shooting. On nights when she doesn't play a lot of minutes, she works on her conditioning after the game.
“I just tried to be patient,” said Ely, a 6-2 forward who starred at the University of Tennessee. “I knew I'd get the opportunity. I'm thankful to coach (Lin Dunn) for having the confidence in me.”
Ely's teammates share that confidence.
“We know exactly what Shyra can do,” guard Erin Phillips said. “Her defense was fantastic and she hit some big shots for us. She expects that from herself -- to come in and be that impact player and energy off the bench. I think she did a great job.”
Catchings calls Ely “the hometown kid.”
“The one thing about her,” Catchings said, “is that every single time she has been called on, she has produced. She comes out and gives us great minutes, whether it's defensively or offensively. She did a little bit of both (Wednesday).”
The Fever opened a 27-point lead in the second quarter with some crisp passing and fluid ball movement. Indiana shot 52.9 percent in the first half and committed only four turnovers while holding Connecticut (6-5) to 26.5 percent shooting.
Dunn called the first 20 minutes “as good a first half offensively and defensively as I've seen us play.”
In the third quarter, however, Indiana lifted off the gas pedal. And the Sun wasted no time slicing the margin to 15. In the fourth quarter, when Tan White hit a 3-pointer with 2:40 left, Connecticut cut the lead to 10 (88-78).
But the Fever turned up the defensive heat and held the Sun scoreless the rest of the way.
Afterward, despite Indiana's current status atop the WNBA, there was a reluctance to discuss it only 13 games into a 34-game season.
“I know we're on a roll, but I have no idea where we stand compared to other teams,” said guard Katie Douglas, who led the Fever with 20 points. “I think that's kind of been our approach … just focus on us and let everybody else worry about themselves. We're really focusing on ourselves and getting better.”
On Friday night, the Fever will play Minnesota, an up-and-coming team in the Western Conference, in the last of five straight games at Conseco Fieldhouse.
“We're really not worried about the standings right now. It's too early in the season,” said Dunn, whose team has a two-game lead on New York in the Eastern Conference. “What we're worried about is playing well for 40 minutes. We played really, really well (against Connecticut) for 20 minutes.”