Fever Getting It Done Defensively

By Tom Rietmann | July 22, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever appear to be back on track, winning consistently and accomplishing it in familiar fashion -- with fierce, unremitting defense.

After an injury-plagued, seven-game losing streak earlier this season, Indiana has won six of its past seven games. The defending WNBA champions, now 7-8, have elevated themselves into the Eastern Conference playoff race with the 2013 mid-season point at hand. They are pursuing a ninth straight postseason bid.

And they know what will get it done.

“We've always been known for our defensive tenacity,” Fever forward Tamika Catchings said. “Every time we talk to another player about our team, they talk about our defense. Defense and rebounding have been the things, I think, that have kept us in every single ballgame, whether we're shooting well or not.”

Opposing coaches talk about Indiana's relentless defense, too. Perhaps now more than ever.

“The reason they won their championship last year is they outwork everybody all the time,” Washington Coach Mike Thibault told the Associated Press on Sunday after the Fever beat the Mystics, 65-52. “That's what they did.”

And it's what they've been doing for much of the year, but especially during the recent surge, as injuries and offensive stumbles have threatened to hold them back.

Indiana's last seven opponents have averaged just 63.1 points on .406 shooting from the field. The Fever has forced an average of 18.4 turnovers per game during that stretch, converting them into 17.6 points a game. Indiana also has outrebounded its opponents in all but one of those seven outings.

“Defense and rebounding, it's been consistent and helping us win games,” said Coach Lin Dunn.

The WNBA's new defensive 3-second rule has forced Dunn and her Fever to alter their scheme. A strong presence in the paint has long been a staple of Indiana's defensive strategy, but the 2013 rule keeps defenders from positioning themselves in the lane for too long.

“I'd just as soon not tell our opponents what kind of adjustments we've made, but so far it's worked pretty good,” Dunn said.

The Fever schedule in the season's first half -- sometimes with just one game a week -- provided Dunn and her staff some extra practice time to work with players on the defensive changes. But the second-half schedule following Saturday's All-Star Game will get a lot busier.

“I think that practice time has been crucial to helping us become a better defensive team,” Dunn said.

Point guard Briann January, one of the Fever's toughest defenders, agrees.

“I think the defense is a product of us putting our pieces together,” January said. “It took us awhile to mesh all of those pieces, and right now you are kind of seeing the work we put in every day.”

Indiana's offense is averaging only 69.3 points per game, 11th in the league. With strong scorers such as Katie Douglas, Jeanette Pohlen, Jessica Davenport and Erin Phillips injured during many or all of the games so far, the Fever's defense has been forced to carry the load. That Indiana defense has allowed just 68.9 points per game for the season, the WNBA's best mark by nearly four points.

“Overall, we have bought into a system of playing great defense,” Catchings said. “We have to continue to build off of that and keep the confidence going, whether you are making shots or not.”