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January, Teamwork Push Fever to Victory

by Tom Rietmann

INDIANAPOLIS -- Briann January stayed under the speed limit Saturday night. Indiana's point guard tapped the brake pedal at all the right times and elevated the Fever to a 78-66 victory over the Connecticut Sun at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“Instead of going 90, she was going 65 or 70,” said Indiana Coach Lin Dunn, who often reminds her standout guard to remain under control.

January scored a season-high 14 points and grabbed a career-high seven rebounds while her floor leadership boosted the Fever to a solid team victory. Her ball-handling also played a key part in keeping the Fever at only 12 turnovers while Connecticut made 21 that led to 22 points for Indiana.

“When she's under control like that, it's really hard for anybody to guard her,” Fever star Tamika Catchings said about January. “And when she's able to make decisions like she did tonight, it just opens the floor for everybody.”

The team's medical staff didn't clear January to play until late in the week after she suffered a mild concussion in last Sunday's victory over Seattle.

But she opened Saturday night's game with undeniable determination after failing to reach double-digit scoring in seven consecutive games. And she played like the consummate point guard she is -- the same one who led Indiana to the 2012 WNBA championship.

“It felt good tonight,” said January, who lifted her season scoring average to 8.0. “Everybody was just working together.”

The Fever put four players in double-figure scoring, led by Catchings with 22. Shavonte Zellous matched January's 14 points. Karima Christmas added 10 points, contributing double digits for the fourth straight game.

Jessica Breland came off the bench for six points, four rebounds and three blocked shots. Breland is one of various players who have emerged as contributors as Indiana has battled injures from the outset of this season.

“It's what we've talked about a lot -- just getting better as a team,” Catchings said. “The progression the last three or four games, you sort of see people coming out of their shells.”

Said Dunn: “It's not going to be a one-, two-, three-pony show. We're going to be very team-oriented. We're going to be asking for a lot of help from a lot of different people.”

Zellous has been a constant contributor this season, averaging 16.5 points. She's one of four players in the WNBA who has scored in double figures in every game. Zellous picked up the scoring that Indiana could have lost when Katie Douglas went out with a back injury nine games ago.

“We depend on Z to step up,” Catchings said. “That's the one thing I told her. 'How you've been playing, you have to continue that, no matter who's on the court. We depend on you to hit those open shots.' And she brings so much defensively, too.”

Indiana, winning its third consecutive game, lifted its record to 4-7 ahead of a noon matchup on Thursday against visiting Minnesota. The Fever defeated the Lynx in four games in the 2012 WNBA Finals.

Indiana opened a season-high 21-point lead in the first half against Connecticut (3-8), but the Sun stormed back in the third quarter. The Fever hit just 18.8 percent from the field (3-of-16) in the third. Connecticut sliced the home team's lead to two (56-54) early in the fourth.

Indiana halted Connecticut's comeback shortly thereafter. Two technical fouls eliminated Sun star Tina Charles, who left with 14 points. The Fever, who hit 60 percent from the field in the fourth quarter, staged a 10-2 run to boost the edge to 66-56. A few minutes later, Indiana's 10-0 surge put the game away.