Fever making defensive fix-ups

By Tom Rietmann | June 12, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- To make a much-desired trip to the 2012 WNBA Finals, the Indiana Fever will likely have to travel a road paved with consistently strong defensive efforts from every player on the roster.

Coach Lin Dunn knows that. “We're not just trying to outscore people,” she said.

Her players know it, too. But they'll be getting reminders at practices this week. After a 4-0 start, Indiana has dropped two games in a row in part because of hurtful defensive lapses.

“Everything we do is based on defending on a very high level,” Dunn said. “Look at the first four games we won and there's a common denominator: Opposing teams did not shoot very well. The two games we've lost, it stands out to you that we're not defending as well.

“After the first four games, we kind of had a letup (defensively). Now we have to get back to fundamentals, back to basics.”

The statistics are telling:

-- In the first four games, the Fever held its opponents to field goal marks of .419, .412, .422 and .391. In the past two games, Indiana gave up a .443 mark to New York and .471 to Connecticut.

-- From the 3-point line, Indiana's first four opponents connected on only 13-of-57 (.228). The past two foes have hit 16-of-33 (.485).

-- Indiana's defense yielded an average of only 71.5 points per game in the 4-0 getaway. In the two losses, the Fever gave up 88 points per outing.

“We defended in spurts,” Dunn said, referring to last Friday's 89-81 loss to Connecticut. “There were times we defended well, but consistently we didn't. They took advantage of it. When we hold people under 80 points, we're in business.”

Indiana's center rotation of Jessica Davenport, Tammy Sutton-Brown and rookie Sasha Goodlett turned in a solid defensive performance against Connecticut star Tina Charles, who went 4-of-14 from the field. But it seemed to cost the three Indiana centers on the offensive end as they combined for 2-of-13 shooting.

It won't get any easier for the Fever trio. On Friday, Indiana travels to play the Washington Mystics, whose leading scorer is center Crystal Langhorne (17.2 points per game). The Fever returns home on Saturday to play Chicago and standout center Sylvia Fowles (18.6 ppg).

As the Fever begins a busy portion of its schedule with this weekend's games, Dunn is looking for a less uneven performance from the team's centers. The coach wants them to play “with high energy, be intense on offense, be intense on defense and finish layups around the basket. Right now, we're not getting a consistent effort there.”

For Goodlett, playing center in the WNBA continues to be a learning process. The Fever drafted the Georgia Tech graduate in last spring's first round and planned on time for her to grow. But that growth came quickly in some areas, and Goodlett has demonstrated flashes of superb play.

She led Indiana with six rebounds in just 15 ½ minutes of a victory over New York. She grabbed five rebounds in nine minutes in Indiana's loss at New York the next day.

When Goodlett has struggled, it often has been on the defensive end. For a rookie, the Fever's defenses can be a jigsaw puzzle. Grasping them takes time and patience -- and that's exactly what Dunn re-emphasized to her first-year center following a practice this week.

“For her, it's frustrating because she wants to do well,” Dunn said about Goodlett. “She is a high achiever. I think she struggles just because it's not automatic for her yet. It's still a journey.”

The 6-foot-5 Goodlett agreed with Dunn's assessment.

“I would be lying if I said that I came in and thought, 'Oh, it's a breeze.' It's totally different,” Goodlett said. “There's not one defense (in the Fever playbook) that I'm used to coming from college. It's like being a freshman in college all over again, but here the competition is a lot better.”

Goodlett credited the help she receives daily from Davenport and Sutton-Brown. And she thanked the Fever.

“Overall, it's been a very patient organization with me when it comes to playing the defense,” Goodlett said.

Indiana's coaches and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf praise Goodlett's work ethic and how she takes nothing for granted. Team officials knew they were drafting a highly motivated and physical player, but Goodlett has surprised and pleased them with her active nature and footwork around the bucket.

“I think our question was: Is she going to be mobile enough to keep up with the speed of the post play in the WNBA?” Krauskopf said. “She answered that.”

Goodlett reinvented herself as a player at Georgia Tech, going through intense workouts almost daily, adding quickness and sticking to a healthy diet that was heavy on vegetables and light on red meat. Since joining the Fever, she is consuming even more energy foods such as spinach and omega-3 eggs.

Krauskopf envisions a bright future for Goodlett.

“We look forward to grooming her and continuing to work with her,” Krauskopf said. “I project her to be one of the top five centers in the league if she (keeps) that mentality of staying aggressive and staying very motivated to be the best she can be. I think the sky is the limit for her.”