Easy Misses Lead to Tough Loss for Fever

By Tom Rietmann | September 10, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Coach Lin Dunn calls it the “cardinal rule.” Teams don't bungle their layups.

Dunn's Fever players broke that rule far too often Tuesday night and paid for their transgressions in a 69-67 loss to the Washington Mystics at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“It's hard to fight through just a wide-open missed layup,” Dunn said. “If we go into the playoffs missing six, seven, eight layups, we're going to be one and done. We talked about that in the locker room. I'm frustrated and disappointed. Layups go back to, what, junior high?”

Without so many close-in misses, a tight game that fell into the loss column for Indiana could have ended differently. A win for the Fever (15-17) would have clinched the No. 3 seed in the WNBA Eastern Conference playoffs. Instead, Indiana is tied with Washington (15-17), with each team having two regular-season games remaining.

If the teams remain tied at season's end, Indiana will get the No. 3 spot by virtue of having the better conference record. Indiana finishes with a home game against New York on Friday and a game at Connecticut on Sunday. Washington concludes with the same two opponents, getting both at the Mystics' arena.

Botched layups have hurt Indiana off and on all season. The Fever missed at least five on Tuesday night, shooting 38.4 percent (28-of-73). It's a problem that sometimes hinders more than a few of Indiana's squad members.

“It's everybody,” Dunn said. “I don't have a problem with the ones where we get hit. I'm talking about when you got in there and got an open look. Those are the ones that are very frustrating for us.”

Said Fever forward Tamika Catchings about the team's layup bugaboo: “I don't understand what we have going on. That's 10, 12, 14 points that we could have had. And we lose by two, not win by 12. You look at the difference (and) we kind of shot ourselves in the foot.”

Still, the game went to the wire. When Crystal Langhorne scored off an inbounds play with 1:24 left, Washington went up 66-63. Catchings cut that margin to one point at the 8-second mark when she drove for a bucket.

From there, with the Fever fouling to get the ball back, Washington's Tayler Hill connected on a pair of free throws and then Indiana's Shavonte Zellous hit a rebound basket to make it 68-67. Hill added another free throw with less than a second left. Indiana's inbounds pass was stolen to end the game.

Kia Vaughn and Ivory Latta led Washington with 15 points apiece. Briann January topped the Fever with 16 points, followed by Zellous with 14, Catchings with 13 and Karima Christmas with 12.

Dunn credited Washington's effort as the Mystics clinched a postseason berth and eliminated New York. Dunn said the Fever, already locked into the postseason, “looked like a team that had clinched a playoff berth and kind of went through the motions at times.”

Catchings, the unquestioned leader in the locker room, made her disappointment clear.

“We just came out flat,” said the Indiana star. “The focus, the intensity we had a couple days ago just wasn't here tonight.

“These next couple days of practice, and going into the last two games of the season, we have to play with a playoff mindset. Every single game, here on out, has to be a playoff mentality. Every practice, every game, every shoot-around. We have to start shifting gears.”

When the playoffs begin, Catchings wants to make sure there are no slip-ups for the WNBA's defending champions.

“I don't want to get embarrassed,” said last year's Finals MVP. “I think we have too good of a team to get embarrassed in the first round.”