Fever Gets Defensive During Odd Days
Embarking on a 19-day stretch that included nine games and seven travel days, the Indiana Fever sought to end its July schedule in contrast to the way it ended the month in 2004.
A year ago, the Fever landed itself in first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time in its young history following a win over Detroit on July 15. Six straight losses later, five on the road, the Fever found itself in last place during a roller-coaster season that ended with the WNBA Playoffs out of reach. The six-game losing skid was the longest in Fever history and one which the 2005 club didn’t intend to repeat.
And so on July 13, 2005, with the Fever firmly in the East’s No. 2 slot behind WNBA-leading Connecticut, Indiana began its stretch of every-other-day-play with games on every odd-numbered day of the month, before a single day off and a game on the 26th at Connecticut; and then another day with no game or travel, and two more odd-day games to end the month.
To date, with just two games remaining in the month (both on odd days, of course) Indiana has won five of those first seven games – with never more than a single loss in a row. And it has done it largely with defense.
The streaking Fever has undergone a facelift of sorts in 2005, and it begins with a more efficient backcourt, led by January free agent acquisition Tully Bevilaqua. Unlike All-Star Tamika Catchings, who head coach Brian Winters says “fills box scores,” Bevilaqua is the motor that drives this more efficient, defensive-minded Fever squad – usually without the stats. Case in point: Bevilaqua (10th) and Catchings (11th) are among the league leaders in steals-to-turnover ratio, but with the exception of 3-point percentage (.403, 14th), you won’t find Bevilaqua anywhere else among league leaders. As a team, Indiana is No. 1 in the WNBA in steals per turnover.
Beyond the addition of the Aussie point guard, Indiana’s depth and balance have been its biggest trademarks. Some numbers:
Perhaps the most telling trend of the new-look Fever has been its evolving scoring pattern and the on-again, off-again shooting struggles of all-everything forward Tamika Catchings. Shooting slump aside, she is still the Fever’s leading scorer with 14.3 points per game, and yes, Indiana still looks to the three-time All-Star and 2004 Olympic gold medalist as its “go-to” player. But in contrast to previous seasons when the Fever needed Catchings to score, and score big, now that need is diminished.
While Catchings has often struggled to find her accuracy from the floor (a career 41 percent shooter who is currently at 33.5 percent, with 11 games below 35 percent this season), the Fever has dispensed a variety of capable scorers in her absence from the scoring column. Seven different players have led the club in scoring this season, and nine have scored in double figures.
Perhaps one statistic tells that story of depth and balance better than any other. In exactly 100 games and three seasons prior to 2005, Catchings was limited to single-digit scoring just seven times. The Fever was 1-6 in those games. To date, in 2005, Catchings has been held under 10 points already six times through 21 games. The Fever, though, are 6-0 in those games.
And so the “Odd Days” roll on. Indiana hosts the Washington Mystics on July 29, travels on July 30, and plays at Madison Square Garden against the New York Liberty on July 31.
The Fever is currently 13-8 and in second place in the Eastern Conference with 13 regular season games to play. After graduating from these “Odd Days,” Indiana plans its August as preparation for September’s “Playoff Days.”