81 at Indiana
By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS — When Indiana and New York meet again Saturday night, the Fever players want to make sure their defense shows its snarl from the opening tip.
That didn't happen Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse and it cost Indiana dearly. The Liberty hit the home team with a 30-point second quarter, built an 18-point lead early in the second half and then withstood a furious Fever rally to capture an 81-80 victory.
“I really didn't think we did a good job of containing them (in the first half),” said Indiana coach Lin Dunn, whose 1-1 team planned to take an early flight Saturday to play in Newark, N.J. “I thought they broke us down and hurt us in transition.
“I thought we extended our defense and took chances, reached and got out of position. About half the time, we were broken down. And (in the second half) we didn't do that any more.”
And that's when Friday night's game turned into a stirring matchup for 7,703 fans at the Fieldhouse.
Jessica Davenport's putback bucket tied the game at 72-all with 4:20 remaining. Katie Douglas, who scored a game-high 27 points, collected eight in a 3 1/2-minute stretch, pulling the Fever within two points at 79-77 with 2:32 left.
Briann January connected on a 3-pointer from the corner to send the Fever up 80-79 with 23.2 seconds remaining. But New York's Cappie Pondexter, who totaled 21 points, provided her team's winning margin with a turnaround jumper near the lane with eight seconds left.
The Fever had an out-of-bounds play to win it in the final 4.7 seconds. But Tamika Catchings' step-back jumper from the key missed at the buzzer.
“It was a good shot. It was a little flat, but right on target,” said Catchings, who had 13 points and six rebounds.
The perseverance and rally by her team heartened Dunn.
“Pondexter is really tough for us to deal with; she's hard for anybody to deal with,” the coach said. “I thought we did a tremendous job of coming back and taking the lead.”
The second quarter took its toll on Indiana. Pondexter, with seven points, led her club to 72.2 percent marksmanship in the quarter (13-of-18) and the Liberty outscored the Fever 30-18.
“In this league, the talent is so high that people are going to exploit you,” said Douglas, who hit six 3-pointers to tie a franchise record. “I think we were hesitant or a count off. We play a defense similar to what they play and everybody is kind of on a string together. I think our string was tangled and twisted very many times in the first half.
“We definitely tried to make some corrections in the second half and just tried to come out with more energy and concentration. I think that was the difference in the second half.”
Added Catchings: “The third quarter, you look up and it's like, 'Oh, man, we're down.' From that point on, on defense, everybody picked it up and we were everywhere, covering for each other and rebounding the ball. Everybody was rotating a lot better.”
Even with Indiana's defensive lapses in the first half, it was a fiercely contested game. New York, which defeated Indiana in last season's playoffs, moved its record to 2-0.
“I really thought when you look at the stat sheet, everything was pretty even,” Dunn said. “But we didn't hit all of our free throws. Here in a one-point game, we miss five free throws (13-of-18). That's the thing that breaks your heart. That's a free gift.”
It won't get any easier for the Fever. After the road game against the Liberty, Indiana is back at the fieldhouse to play Tulsa on Tuesday. Then comes a trip to play at Seattle, Phoenix and Washington.
But coming back from the 18-point deficit provided the Fever with some good feelings on a difficult night.
“We can build on that,” Catchings said. “When you look at what we were able to do in the fourth quarter, I know and I believe that by the end of the season, we're going to be a real good team.”