Fever Welcomes Back Zellous, Captures Timely Win
By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- Shavonte Zellous needed only two quarters to dispose of the rust.
Zellous scored 18 of her game-high 20 points in the second half Wednesday night as the Indiana Fever thumped the San Antonio Silver Stars, 80-63, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Her performance came after she missed Indiana's previous four games with plantar fasciitis.
“I thought tonight was a good example of how much we missed Zellous,” Fever Coach Lin Dunn said. “It's been tough not having her -- not having her energy, her scoring, her defense.”
Zellous' return, as well as an overall solid performance by her team, proved timely. Indiana ended a three-game losing streak, lifting its record to 12-14. The victory nudged the Fever a half-game ahead of Washington for third place in the WNBA Eastern Conference.
The top four teams in each conference move on to the league's postseason. The Fever, defending WNBA champions, are pushing to make the playoffs for a ninth consecutive year.
“That West Coast trip was rough,” said Fever guard Brian January, referring to her team's recent three-game skid against Western Conference clubs. “To get home, really work on getting ourselves better and then get a win, it can start some momentum for us.
“You just have to get into the playoffs. Then you've granted yourself an opportunity to win the championship.”
The Fever travels to play Minnesota, last year's opponent in the WNBA Finals, in a Saturday game. Then the team finishes the regular season with seven outings against Eastern Conference teams. Indiana, Washington and New York are within 1 ½ games of each other for the final two playoff positions in the East.
“Staying healthy is the biggest thing,” said Fever forward Tamika Catchings, who totaled 19 points and seven rebounds Wednesday night. “We just have to build off of what we already have done and what we know we are capable of doing. We just have to make the playoffs. If we make the playoffs, anything can happen from there.”
A shortage of healthy players has been a season-long problem for the Fever. Wednesday night, Erin Phillips tweaked her knee -- on which she underwent surgery earlier this season -- and limped off the floor in the fourth quarter. Veteran guard Katie Douglas has missed most of the season with a back injury but could return if she practices well under full-speed conditions next week.
In the meantime, having Zellous back against the Silver Stars helped the Indiana cause immensely.
“Sitting out four games, you have to try to get your timing back,” Zellous said afterward as she soaked her foot in a large bucket of ice. “In the second half, it wasn't just me (scoring). We moved the ball, got open in transition and basically attacked the basket.”
The Fever led by 16 points at the half, but some spotty play in the second half allowed San Antonio (9-16) to cut the edge to seven on four occasions. Then Zellous and January went to work, mostly on drives and in the open floor.
Zellous scored seven consecutive points for Indiana. January connected on four straight to give the Fever a commanding 77-59 lead with 2:41 left in the game.
Now the team will gear up for the stretch run.
“If you want to get in the playoffs, you have to win right now,” Dunn said. “It's crunch time. We have this cluster of three teams trying to get those spots. We like the fact that we have a history of being in the playoffs every year. If we can get in, regardless of which spot, and get healthy, then I think we can be dangerous.”