Bench is the big story at halfway mark
As the Indiana Fever begins the second half of the WNBA regular season, the team will continue to rely on a cast of players off the bench whom coach Lin Dunn refers to as the squad's “young legs.”
Indiana's reserves rank as the club's No. 1 success story at the midway point of the 2010 season. Star forward Tamika Catchings is their biggest fan, repeatedly calling them “the best bench in the league.” The subs have accounted for nearly 36 percent of the Fever's points (468 of 1,302) in an 11-6 start.
“This is by far the best bench we've had since I've been part of the Fever,” said Dunn, who has been with the team since 2004 as an assistant or head coach. “I'm thinking back on my years in the pros and colleges, and I don't think I've ever had an opportunity to coach a team with as strong of a bench.”
Indiana, with nine wins in the last 12 games, has a firm grip on third place in the Eastern Conference. The team will start the second half this week with a pair of home games – against Connecticut (10-8) in a matinee game on Wednesday and against conference-leading Atlanta (14-5) on Friday night. For Indiana, the WNBA's third-oldest team with four starters at 30 years or older, nothing will change in the plan to use reserves early and often.
Dunn keeps a close watch on the starters' minutes, hoping to keep them fresh for the postseason as the team attempts to repeat as conference champion and return to the WNBA Finals. So far, so good. Catchings and Katie Douglas, the top two scorers, both average under 30 minutes per game and appear strong.
Formidable performances by the subs have made that possible. Briann January, Shavonte Zellous and Jene Morris, all 23 years old, have played nicely at the guard and wing positions and push the gas pedal on the team's developing fast break. January has been especially effective in the past two games, showing no ill effects from an early-season knee injury and totaling 11 assists and nine rebounds. Jessica Moore and Jessica Davenport, the first inside players off the bench, provide instant energy.
In a 100-72 victory over Tulsa just before the weekend's All-Star break, the Indiana bench accounted for a franchise-record 50 points. The reserves have scored 30 or more six times in 2010, already matching the most in any season in franchise history.
“You just feel comfortable about any one of them coming into the game at any time, and sometimes with all of them in the game at once,” Dunn said.
As the Fever attempts to move up the conference standings in the second half and gain home-court advantage in the playoffs, here are other developments and trends to watch: