Fever Gearing Up for Griner

Britney Griner

By Tom Rietmann

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever already faced one significant challenge with a growing injury list. An enormous test of another sort arrives on Saturday.

Her name is Brittney Griner. She is 6-foot-8, tremendously skilled and the talk of the WNBA.

Griner, the No. 1 pick in this year's college draft, and the Phoenix Mercury will visit Bankers Life Fieldhouse for a nationally televised game (3:30 p.m., ABC). Griner dominated the early-season highlight shows when she threw down a pair of dunks in the Mercury's season opener. That's two of the five in WNBA history.

Heading into the Mercury's game on Thursday night at Minnesota, Griner was averaging 17 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in her club's 0-2 start.

When Phoenix arrives in Indianapolis, the task of stopping the rookie from Baylor will fall to Indiana's 6-1 center, Erlana Larkins, with a lot of assistance from her Fever teammates.

“I'm up for it,” Larkins said Thursday about battling Griner. “I know my teammates are going to help me. I'm ready.

“Strength. That's what I have to use,” Larkins added. “That's my best asset, to not let her get to where she likes to be, which is around the basket.”

The Fever, 1-2, lost in overtime Wednesday at New York (75-68) while having only eight players in uniform. Veteran guard Katie Douglas, who averaged 16.5 points last season, developed a sore back and didn't accompany the Fever to the arena. Douglas was visiting doctors on Thursday and didn't practice.

“I don't know her status,” Indiana Coach Lin Dunn said about Douglas. “Obviously, I'm preparing like she might not play (against Phoenix).”

Also expected to be out for the Fever until midseason are Jeanette Pohlen (knee), Erin Phillips (knee) and Jessica Davenport (leg stress fracture). Those three totaled an average of 17.2 points in the 2012 regular season.

To help alleviate the roster problems, Indiana signed 10-year league veteran Erin Thorn on Thursday. The guard from Brigham Young has averaged 4.8 points for three different teams and played for Minnesota against the Fever as Indiana won the WNBA Finals last year. Thorn practiced Thursday and spent a lot of time learning the Fever sets.

Come Saturday, how Indiana sets its defense against Griner will play a big part in the game. Like other teams in the WNBA, watch for Indiana to double-team early and often. Opposing defenses don't want the rookie, who will be playing only her fourth pro game, getting comfortable near the bucket.

“She changes the game with the length of her body and the length of her arms,” Dunn said about Griner. “I think, long term, she's going to have a huge impact on this game because of her size. And she's very athletic.”

However, Dunn figures Larkins will be ready to take on Griner. Larkins displayed her considerable talents late in 2012 as Indiana made its run to the WNBA title, totaling 48 rebounds in four Finals games against the Lynx.

“That old saying: It's not how tall you are, it's how tall you play,” Dunn said. “That's what we love about Larkins. She's strong. She's physical. … We just have to do the things that we do and do them well.”

As for Griner's dunks, the Fever players admire her skill set and view her as a strong addition to the WNBA.

To have a player who can “dunk like a Lebron James or Paul George, that's amazing,” Indiana's Shavonte Zellous said. “I think that's a big impact in our league and everybody would like to see that.”

Added Larkins: “When I see (a dunk), it's pretty cool. But other than that, you have to keep moving. It's just one possession in the game. If she dunks, you just have to hurry up and get the ball out and try to beat them down to the other end.”