Dunn reviews 2010 season

By Tom Rietmann
           
An Indiana Fever team with high aspirations for 2010 fell short of its goal. Coach Lin Dunn makes no excuses for that.

Ask her to attach a letter grade to her team's performance and she puts it at a “B or B-plus.”

“When we set our standards on an Eastern Conference championship and playing for a (WNBA) championship and then we don't get there, it can't be an A season,” Dunn said.

The Fever coach took time Friday to offer some in-depth analysis of the recently completed campaign. She talked about the positives of the team's 21-13 regular-season record and the disappointment of losing the final three games and falling from the conference's top seed to No. 3. She also commented on her club's first-round exit from the playoffs, losing 2-1 in a three-game series with  New York, and what she views as the biggest need for 2011 – improved rebounding.

“In 2009, we took a big step forward,” Dunn said about a season that concluded with a conference title and a berth in the league finals. “In 2010, we took a little step back. Maybe that step back will help us take another big step in 2011 and let us really accomplish what we want, and that's a WNBA championship.”

The 2010 season opened with four starters – Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas, Ebony Hoffman and Tammy Sutton-Brown – all returning late from European play and missing Indiana's training camp. That may have played a large part in the Fever's streaky stretches, as the team twice won five games in a row but twice lost three straight.

“We never felt like we were playing night after night at the highest level,” Dunn said. “We were inconsistent with our energy and our effort. ... We had our energy level for maybe 30 or 35 minutes (in a game), but it was hard night after night for it to be 40 minutes.”

Where Indiana suffered most was in the rebounding department. Troublesome statistics all season were opponents' offensive rebounds and second-chance points. The Fever finished seventh in WNBA rebounding, averaging 32.5 per game, including 9.6 on the offensive end. Indiana opponents averaged 33.0 and 10.0.

“We were consistently in the lower part of the league in rebounding,” Dunn said. “When you look back at the 13 games we lost and evaluate them closely, that always comes up. I thought we could have won the East had we been a better rebounding team and had a greater sense of urgency.”

It won't be a surprise to see the Fever pursue a player with strong rebounding skills during the offseason.  Dunn said the team needs somebody who can provide 10 boards a game, somebody with the  same relentless approach as Catchings, the team's leading rebounder at 7.1 per game.

“I like to say it's the rebounding gene; it's just in your body,” Dunn said. “You just have to have the desire and the urge.”

Dunn cited Catchings as the team's top success story in 2010. Catchings' effort and will to win never wavered, and she was named the league's top defender for an unprecedented fourth time in her career. At the offensive end, the Fever veteran enjoyed her best year, averaging 18.2 points on .484 accuracy from the field.

“She invested an enormous amount of time in her shooting,” Dunn said. “I thought she had a (league) MVP season.”

Dunn mentioned a pair of valuable reserves, Jessica Davenport and Shavonte Zellous, as pleasant surprises for the Fever. Davenport, the first front-court player off the bench, provided 7.4 points a game and gave Indiana the lift it needed to rescue a number of victories. Zellous, acquired in an early-season trade with Tulsa, averaged 15.5 minutes and 5.9 points and showed she was a quick study in learning the team's offensive and defensive plays.

One regret for Dunn was that the Fever didn't show more resilience down the stretch. The team lost five of its last six games, if the postseason is included. Dunn said the 2009 departure of veterans Tamecka Dixon and Yolanda Griffith hurt the Fever because they could have provided help in the leadership area.

“I was disappointed we weren't just a little tougher to say, 'That's our Eastern Conference championship and you aren't taking it away,' '' said Dunn.

The late-season swoon cost Indiana a home-court advantage against New York in the playoffs. Indiana lost the series opener 85-73 in New York, won 75-67 in the fieldhouse and then lost 77-74 back at Madison Square Garden.

Dunn, looking ahead to 2011, said: “If the starting lineup is the same as we ended the season, I'll be surprised. I think you'll see some changes and I think they'll be positive changes.”
Briann January is expected to be the starting point guard.

“She has everything she needs to be a great point guard in this league,” Dunn said. “I think she knows it's a changing of the guard, and a tremendous amount of responsibility will be hers when we are back in the spring.”

The status of guard Tully Bevilaqua and Hoffman is uncertain. Both are unrestricted free agents.

Sutton-Brown and Douglas were signed to contract extensions during the past year. Catchings, a valuable member of the U.S. team that recently won the World Championship in basketball, is under contract.

“I think we have to move forward,” Dunn said. “We have to get better, particularly in the rebounding area.”