Dunn sees “tough-minded” Fever team

By Tom Rietmann

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever can put away the travel bags and road uniforms. The team will get some much-needed home time now, including a little rest and then four games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse before the WNBA's month-long Olympic break.

The Fever are 8-5 following a three-game trip that ended with a satisfying 81-72 victory Wednesday at  Chicago. Upon returning to Indianapolis, Coach Lin Dunn treated her team to a rare two days off. The players will be back at work Saturday to start preparations for San Antonio's visit to the Fieldhouse on July 5.

Dunn took some time Thursday to assess her club with the season's halfway mark only two weeks off. She said one trait jumps out about her players: mental toughness.

She noted the way the Fever rebounded from a disheartening overtime loss at Connecticut on June 19 to thump the Sun by 34 points two days later. And she pointed to the triumph at Chicago, which came only 24 hours after a difficult 70-58 defeat at Atlanta.

“I think in both instances,” Dunn said, “we showed we can be a real tough-minded team that's going to be difficult to deal with when it comes playoff time. I like that.”

What's not to like? The Fever's resilience begins with its threesome of 30-something veterans -- Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas and Tammy Sutton-Brown.

Catchings and Douglas have struggled with their shooting lately, going a combined 20-of-73 over the last three games. But they keep finding ways to help their team. Catchings had a season-high nine assists at Chicago. Douglas continues to provide rebounds, assists and floor leadership at two  positions.

Sutton-Brown, the oldest Fever player at 34, ramped up her game for 10 points and eight rebounds at Chicago.

“With our three older and veteran players, there is a focus there, there is a sense of urgency,” Dunn said, referring to the team's WNBA Finals goal. “I think they have done a really good job of letting the other players know: 'We need you. We want you to step up when we're struggling a little bit.' I think they've done a good job of making the other players feel their value.”

Shavonte Zellous rose up to score a season-high 18 at Chicago, hitting 7-of-8 shots from the field. That performance came only four days after Zellous suffered a neck injury and underwent concussion tests after she collided with the basket stanchion in a 73-70 win at Tulsa.

“She gives our team a lot of energy,” Dunn said. “She's a slasher. She's a rebounder. And she's really been working on her 3-point shot.”

Zellous isn't the only Fever player to thrive recently from the 3-point line. Indiana has connected on 39-of-81 3-pointers (48.1 percent) in its past four games. Indiana is second in the WNBA in overall 3-point percentage (41.1) and first in 3-pointers made (109, for an average of 8.38 per game).

Indiana point guard Erin Phillips leads the league with a 64.7 mark on treys (11-of-17). Jeanette Pohlen is sixth at 48.6 (17-of-37). Pohlen, the Fever's first-round draft pick in 2011, has averaged 12 points over the past four games, in large part because of her 3-point accuracy.

Dunn said Pohlen, who came out of Stanford as one of the nation's top shooters, occasionally passes up open 3-point attempts and has to be reminded to do otherwise.

“We've really put a point of emphasis on taking your open shots,” Dunn said of the instructions imparted to all of the team's perimeter shooters.

Another player who has provided quality minutes off the bench is Erlana Larkins, who made the Fever roster after sitting out the past two WNBA seasons. Larkins, who plays mostly as the backup to Catchings at power forward, has grabbed five, seven and four rebounds in limited playing time in the past three games.

“I think at times Larkins is going to really help us,” Dunn said. “She's going to help us on the boards.  She's going to help defensively. I think you're going to see her scoring more. If she can give us 12 good minutes and let Catch play 28, it's huge for us.”

There have been other encouraging signs. The Fever ranks second-best in the league with an average of 14.69 turnovers a game. Indiana committed only 11, 11 and 10 turnovers in its last three victories.

“We know we have to take care of the basketball, so we really work at that,” said Dunn, whose club has received solid performances from the point guard combination of Briann January and Phillips.

And now comes rest for Dunn's club.

For Catchings and Douglas, who log the Fever's most playing time virtually every game, the time off should be especially helpful.

“They need a break,” Dunn said. “They need to get their legs back. They've played a lot of minutes.

“Catch and Katie are older players now. It takes them a little longer to recover. I think this two-day break will be absolutely wonderful for them. The Olympic break will be great for Katie. Katie plays year around. I think right now we have to be ever vigilant and making sure they are fresh.”

After the game against San Antonio on July 5, Indiana will play host to Chicago (July 7), New York (July 10) and Los Angeles (July 12). Because the Fever won't be worrying about airline schedules, back-to-back road games or any other travel miseries that can throw a team off track, Dunn sees the next two weeks as a good barometer.

“We'll know a lot more about this team as we break for the Olympics,” the coach concluded.