Catchings elevates Fever to victory

by Tom Rietmann

INDIANAPOLIS -- Numerous factors contributed to Indiana's much-needed victory Friday night, but none meant more than having a rested Tamika Catchings leading the Fever again with her usual resolve and all-out play.

After two games off because of a back injury, Catchings erupted for a game-high 28 points while also collecting six steals, five rebounds and four blocked shots as Indiana toppled the Tulsa Shock at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The 80-69 triumph snapped the Fever's seven-game losing streak, lifting the defending WNBA champions' record to 2-7.

“It was really great to see Catch play with so much energy,” said Fever Coach Lin Dunn. “She looked 25 instead of in her 30s.”

About a week ago, Indiana's medical staff and coaches did their best to convince Catchings, 34, that she needed time off to rest a balky back that had bothered her since early in the season. The veteran forward gave in grudgingly. She returned Friday night with a fire in her belly.

“I felt like my old self out there,” Catchings said.

Point guard Briann January put it best about her teammate's contributions and leadership.

“It was so nice to see Catch be Catch,” said January. “As much as she wants to win and puts everything into it, she needs a break, too. She's not Superwoman, even though we all think she is. She's not invincible.

“It was just great to see her out there with her passion, just pulling us together.”

Catchings received plenty of support from a Fever team that scored more than 68 points for the first time in June.

January scored eight points with four assists and turned in some stifling defense on Tulsa rookie Skylar Diggins, who had just two points. Shavonte Zellous broke from a slow start for seven third-quarter points and 10 for the game.

Karima Christmas, scoring in double digits in the second consecutive game, had 12 points and seven rebounds.

“She plays hard all the time,” Dunn said about Christmas. “She can get to the rim. She's a great rebounder. She's a big guard who can defend for us.”

For Christmas, who started her fourth straight game, the high-scoring role takes her back to college days at Duke. She totaled 1,052 points for the Blue Devils.

“I thrive off of my defense,” said Christmas, who was acquired by the Fever last season in a trade with Tulsa. “I come in the game and just try to give our team a boost. I try to do the little things -- things that just make us get better as the game goes on.”

The Fever moved to a 17-point lead in the third quarter, but the visiting Shock (3-9) refused to wilt. A 13-2 run lifted Tulsa within six early in the fourth quarter. The Shock managed the rally even though Nicole Powell, who had 19 points at halftime, was held to just two in the second half.

Indiana, with a short-handed active roster and lengthy injury list, has suffered fatigue and lost leads in recent games. But not this time. When Tulsa's Riquna Williams scored nine straight points for her team to make it a 71-67 game, the Fever bolted to a 9-2 finishing run.

Indiana's Jessica Breland scored four in the final 1:41 and totaled eight points and six rebounds on the night.

“I thought we got really good help from Breland off the bench,” Dunn said. “She rebounded and got some points for us. She defended. She's getting better. She's just more comfortable.”

With 1:10 remaining, Catchings swatted away a driving layup attempt by Williams, helping to seal the victory.

It was an outcome that Catchings termed as “huge” as the Fever fits together some changing pieces. And perhaps it's one that can jump-start the injury-depleted Indiana club, which will meet the visiting Seattle Storm on Sunday night.

“The energy,” Catchings said, “has been really high. People are confident. And we feel like tonight we had our swag back. We have to continue to build off that.”