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Fever Ratchets Up Defense for Big Win

By Tom Rietmann | August 3, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever turned in a forceful, all-out effort Saturday night, producing a dominant 79-58 victory over the Chicago Sky at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

In some ways, this Indiana triumph reminded observers of the 2012 Fever, champions of the WNBA, who often beat opponents simply by imposing their will.

Saturday, strong defense highlighted the night as the Fever held Chicago to 32.8 percent shooting and a season low in scoring. Indiana outrebounded the visitors, 42-30, and forced 15 turnovers.

“I think we just came out real focused,” said Fever forward Tamika Catchings, who collected 17 points and 10 rebounds for the 85th double-double of her career. “We knew we had to go hard against them. They played (Friday) night, so they're going to be a little tired. Our goal was to jump on them right from the beginning.”

Indiana will attempt to make it happen again on Tuesday, when the team travels to Chicago for a rematch. The Fever will make the trip holding a 9-10 record, good for third place in the Eastern Conference. Chicago fell to 13-6 and into second place.

In a game loaded with tough contact, even Fever Coach Lin Dunn absorbed some. With 1:10 remaining in the first quarter, Chicago's Epiphanny Prince lunged for a loose ball and fell hard into Dunn, who was standing near the Indiana bench. The coach was knocked into a folding chair, which collapsed and sent her tumbling to the floor.

“Took one for the team,” Dunn said later, smiling. “I felt like I went into slow motion. I did a full pirouette, and I don't know if it looked like I was dancing or what. Then I was down for the count.”

Dunn recovered after a few minutes and saw her team move out to a 40-32 halftime lead. Indiana continued to pressure Chicago, which was playing without leading scorer Elena Delle Donne (concussion), and lengthened the edge to 59-46 after three quarters.

When Catchings scored seven consecutive points midway through the fourth, Indiana grabbed an insurmountable 20-point bulge at 70-50.

Numerous Fever players made contributions. Karima Christmas scored 12 to join Catchings in double figures. Erlana Larkins had nine points and 10 rebounds. Jeanette Pohlen, seeing her first action since suffering a serious knee injury in last year's WNBA Finals, scored seven off the bench.

“Obviously, the nerves kicked in a little bit when I first went out there,” said Pohlen. “But I'm just so blessed, so grateful to have everybody here supporting me. I was ready. It's been a while.”

Her teammates were glad to have her back. Pohlen knows the Fever schemes and sets. So does Erin Phillips, who's dealt with a balky knee all season but added four points off the bench.

Both players also turned in solid defense, which is generally the key to Indiana victories.

“You look down the bench and you see a lot of familiar faces,” said Fever point guard Briann January. “Now we have our group together, and you saw what happens when we have people on the court who know the system, know what is expected of them and come in and play their role and do it well.”

Stout defense from Christmas and January held Prince to seven points, 8.7 below her average, on 3-of-12 shooting. Chicago center Sylvia Fowles, who came in averaging 16.1 points and 11.9 rebounds, was held to 10 and three.

Indiana's victory marked another step in the team's rally from a 1-7, injury-plagued start this year. Catchings noted afterward that pushing into third place in the East means little right now, but the Fever's incremental improvements mean a lot.

“That 1-7 start, you start questioning yourself a little bit,” she said. “But I think as a team, we've bounced back really well. The one thing we continue to focus on is just getting better every single day, every single game.”

So far, so good.