69 at Indiana
by Tom Rietmann | May 9, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana's lineups changed early and often Wednesday as Coach Lin Dunn, trying to determine the 2012 final roster, mixed and matched the Fever's combinations.
What didn't change with the alternating players, however, was the Fever's defensive grit.
And when the final preseason game ended with the Fever clutching a 78-69 victory over visiting San Antonio, one statistic flickered on the box score as if it were in neon lights. Indiana forced 27 Silver Star turnovers, which led to 32 points for the home team. It's the kind of stat that produces smiles for the Fever coaching staff.
“I thought we were much more disruptive on defense,” Dunn said. “I thought we caused them all types of problems in what they were trying to run.”
Under Dunn, strong defense has traditionally been a big part of the Fever's DNA. This year, as Indiana prepares for its regular-season opener against Atlanta on May 19, defensive emphasis perhaps has been ramped up even more.
Briann January, coming back from last year's knee surgery, injects the Fever with even more quickness to play a suffocating style as the Indiana club will often employ a three-guard set.
“Defense is definitely something we like to pride ourselves on,” said January, who's always been a blur on the court but may be more explosive since her rehabilitation. “We've been working on our different defensive schemes. (The San Antonio turnovers are) what happens when we put them into play.
“We're trying to take them out of their comfort zones, force them in different directions and then we're there to counter.”
The Fever produced a true team victory in this one. All 12 players in uniform scored. The leading scorer was Roneeka Hodges with 10. January, Katie Douglas and Erlana Larkins each contributed nine points.
Indiana's field goal percentage wasn't high: 42.0 (29-of-69). And too many of the misses, Dunn said, were uncontested shots and even layups that should have been successful. But that's where the Fever's sophisticated, but uniformly intense, defensive work can compensate.
“I just think we came out focused (defensively),” said Fever forward Tamika Catchings, last season's MVP in the WNBA. “We're still getting comfortable playing with each other on the offensive end. … (Defense) is what's going to keep us strong.”
Indiana will have to trim its roster from 13 to 11 players in the coming days. That means “some tough decisions,” said Dunn, adding that the team's depth may be the best of her five seasons as head coach. Larkins, who plays mostly power forward behind Catchings, is hopeful she finds her name on that final roster.
The 6-1 Larkins has played in Turkey over the past four winters but hasn't made a WNBA roster in two summers. The former North Carolina Tar Heels star worked hard overseas to add a mid-range shot to her arsenal. A tough and physical presence under the basket, she has displayed solid footwork and led the Fever with 10 rebounds in two preseason games.
“I want to thank (Fever General Manager Kelly Krauskopf) and the whole Fever organization for allowing me another chance to get myself in the league,” Larkins said. “The learning curve is a little different. They're throwing a lot of things at me fast.”
Dunn said Larkins “is probably spinning from learning our defensive system.” However, that hasn't stopped the 26-year-old from pushing herself to the limits.
“She's physical, she's strong and she gets on the boards,” Dunn said. “I like that about her. It's just a matter of knowing where to be.”
Guard Erin Phillips was on the Fever bench but not in uniform for Wednesday's game. After playing overseas, she flew into Dallas and drove to Indianapolis. She will begin practice with the Fever on Thursday. … January, playing before a home crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the first time since her knee injury last June, said the experience was exhilarating. “Oh my goodness, it felt so good to be here on our home court,” January said. “Just seeing some familiar fans out there was great.” … Hodges' 10-point game made her the Fever's leading scorer for the preseason. She topped Indiana with 16 points in the team's 69-67 victory at San Antonio last Saturday. … Shavonte Zellous, who enjoyed a strong performance over the winter during her season in Turkey, totaled 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting with eight rebounds in two preseason games.