UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Tamika Catchings has just about done it all as a basketball player. The litany of accolades is as familiar to hoops fans as it is impressive. All-American and Collegiate National Champion at legendary Coach Pat Summitt’s Tennessee. WNBA Rookie of the Year. Seven-time All-Star, five-time Defensive Player of the Year, 2011 WNBA Most Valuable Player. Three-time Olympic gold medalist, capped off at London 2012 with a stint as tri-captain of a squad many consider perhaps the greatest women’s basketball team ever assembled.
Throughout this stellar playing career, Catchings has also excelled off the court, tirelessly and effectively contributing to community out-reach efforts and worthy charitable causes while promoting the critical nature of opportunities for young girls to reach their potential, in the playing fields and courts as well as the classrooms, universities and board rooms.
Catchings and the Fever came ever so close in 2009, holding a 2-1 lead over the Phoenix Mercury in the best of five series with Game 4 in the friendly confines of Indianapolis, but it wasn’t to be as a combination of poor Indiana shooting and the all-around excellence of 2009 WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi and her explosive young teammate out of Rutgers, Cappie Pondexter, prevented Catchings and the Fever from securing the increasingly elusive WNBA title.
The Quest, however, isn’t over. Catchings has another chance to reach the pinnacle of the professional game after the Fever dispatched the No. 1 seeded Connecticut Sun 87-71 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Mohegan Sun on Thursday night. And the biggest reason the Fever will be taking on the Minnesota Lynx in the 2012 WNBA Finals (Game 1, Sun, Oct 14, 8pm ET on ESPN2), despite suffering the loss of veteran scorer Katie Douglas to an ankle injury midway through the first quarter, was Catchings.
The stats speak for themselves. Catchings led all scorers with 22 points and all rebounders with 13. She also dished out four assists, made two steals, blocked two shots and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the line. But the number of times Catchings was the first player to the floor for a loose ball, the quickest player to a react and stop the ball when Connecticut attempted to get out and run, and the vocal leadership in the team huddle when Douglas left for the local hospital to get X-rays, don't show up in the box score.
“One person goes down, everybody steps up,” Catchings exclaimed above the music blaring during the TV timeout.
Catchings was candid about how important it was to her to get back the Finals before the game, but was positively giddy about the contributions of her teammates after leading them to victory over the Sun.
“We rallied together for sure,” said Catchings. “You play this game to make it to the Finals and there was no way we were gonna let it slip away from us.”
Catchings and Dunn weren’t exaggerating when praising those who stepped up in Douglas’s absence. Pohlen was 5-for-5 from the field, including 4-of-4 from behind the three-point line. Zellous scored 11 points, made three steals and was a general pest on defense. Phillips poured in 15 points, including a trio of three-pointers.
To be sure, Douglas will be missed should she not be available for the Finals. (At the time this story was filed, there wasn’t any word on the severity of her injury.) Catchings for one is keeping a positive attitude until she hears otherwise.
“One thing Katie and I share is neither of us ever give up. Never,” said Catchings of Douglas, who had averaged 25.5 points in Games 1 and 2 of the Conference Finals before the Game 3 injury. “Katie may even try to just tape it up and take on Minnesota like I did last year against Atlanta.”
Which brings us back full circle to Catchings and her return to the WNBA Finals.
“I’m so excited to be going back to the Finals and so proud of my teammates, the way they’ve battled with me all year,” said Catchings. “Minnesota is a great team, a great all-around team but our team will be ready. I have extra motivation having been in the Finals in 2009 and coming up short, so I can’t wait for the first game with this team to try and win it this year. This is a different team, with a different makeup and personally I feel I have that experience of 2009 and I’ve improved as a player since then. It should be a great series.”
So said one of the game’s greatest players.