Practice Report: Indiana Fever
By Brian Martin, WNBA.com

Defensive Player of the Year Tamika Catchings will have her hands full defending scoring champ Diana Taurasi.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images

Phoenix, AZ, September 28, 2009 -- The Indiana Fever arrived at US Airways Center this afternoon for the first practice of their first appearance in the WNBA Finals, which gets underway Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET.

But not everyone walking into the gym today was in unfamiliar territory. While this is the first time the Fever franchise has advanced to the championship round, a number of Fever players have been on the stage before, with mixed results.

Tully Bevilaqua (2004 with Seattle), Tamecka Dixon (2001, 2002, 2003 with Los Angeles), Katie Douglas (2004, 2005 with Connecticut) and Tammy Sutton-Brown (Charlotte, 2001) have all played for a WNBA title, with Bevilaqua and Dixon (twice) succeeding.

"That's was one of the things we did in the off-season is we secured Tamecka Dixon specifically for her experience,� said Fever coach Lin Dunn prior to today�s practice session. �Not only her experience as a shooting guard, but her experience in two Finals and two actual championships.

�Plus we brought in Yolanda Griffith. Unfortunately she got hurt, but we still get texts from her two or three times a day. So she's still on board. And of course we've got Tammy Sutton-Brown and Katie Douglas, who have both played in the Finals, and Tully Bevilaqua has won a championship, so we've got some people that know what it takes to get the prize."

Douglas, who is in her second season with Indiana, appeared in back-to-back Finals with Connecticut and fell short both times. However, she feels the experience that she gained from being in the Finals can benefit the Fever now.

"Maybe I can educate my teammates on what to sort of expect, in terms of media coverage and things like that,� she said. �Everything gets magnified now. And that�s the same on the floor. Every possession is magnified, everything means more. The little things are really going to count in these games."

One player that is making her Finals debut is all-everything forward Tamika Catchings, who has been the face of the Fever franchise since her arrival in 2002. After years of knocking on the door and having it slammed in their face, Catchings and the Fever finally broke through last week as they defeated the Detroit Shock in three games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

�It feels like forever,� said Catchings about her wait to get to the Finals, �It�s my eighth year in the league and every year we come into the season saying �this is the year, this is the year� and we get denied by Detroit. Getting over that hump and being able to beat them in front of our home crowd, we had an unbelievable crowd, was great. For me it�s a blessing to be here because we worked so hard and it�s finally playing off.�

As satisfying as it felt to finally knock off their Eastern Conference nemesis, Catchings said she does not expect a letdown from her team after such an emotional high.

"For us, it wasn�t a celebration of 'oh yeah, we won the championship,'� she said. �We celebrated in the fashion that we should have after winning the East since we�ve been shut down so many times. We celebrated, but now it�s back to business. Tully [Bevilaqua] and Tamecka [Dixon] told us, 'Just imagine what it feels like to win a championship'."

After having Sunday off, the Fever arrived in Phoenix early Monday morning ready to switch back into game mode and focus on the task at hand, which is trying to find a way to slow down the high-flying Mercury.

This series has been billed as a contrast of styles. The Mercury led the league in scoring once again this year and set a WNBA record by scoring 92.8 points per game. Meanwhile, the Fever ranked among the best in the league in defense, allowing just 76.6 points per game, while being led by Catchings, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

�Everyone talks about how Phoenix likes to run,� said Dunn. �We like to run, too. We like to run, and push the ball, and score early. When we beat them here, that�s how we beat them, with an up-tempo game. I think it will be a great matchup. They�re very, very good; very offensive-oriented, very talented. They can just knock down shots from anywhere. So, we have to bring our A-plus defense.�

Catchings and Sutton-Brown both mentioned the number 90 as a benchmark for their defense against Phoenix.

�We want to hold them under 90 points," said Catchings. �That�s been our strategy all year, to hold the other team way under what they�re used to scoring.�

�We have to play Fever basketball, which is about establishing our defensive game,� added Sutton-Brown. �A lot of us are going to be in bed early tonight knowing that we�re going to have our running shoes on tomorrow. They are so talented and everyone has the green light so that second line defense, that third line defense has to be on point.

�I think throughout the playoffs we�ve been getting back to Fever basketball and trusting that the next person is going to be there if you so happen to get beat. Defense is definitely key. We have to try and make them do other things and try to make them uncomfortable for 40 minutes.�

Catchings draws the toughest assignment of all as she will be matched up with Taurasi, the league�s leading scorer at 20.4 points per game during the regular season and 23.8 during the playoffs.

�I�m going to be all over Diana,� she said. �I love playing against the best offense players. Being a defensive player and priding myself on defense I definitely love the challenge. Dee and I go way back so even when she makes a good more or makes shot in my face, it�s all in love, it�s all in fun.

�Dee and I didn�t play against each other in college but we have pretty much since she�s been in the league. And then with USA Basketball where we�ve played with each other, that�s been a lot of fun times. I love having her on my team rather than going against her. I will say that.�

January Homecoming

Although the Fever open the WNBA Finals on the road, rookie Briann January will have plenty of support in the stands as she returns to the scene of her college playing days at nearby Arizona State University.

The first-year guard, who has played significant minutes in the postseason for the Fever, has to juggle game preparation and focus with possible distractions such as friends, family and time and ticket requests.

"I'm trying to focus on the game,� she said. �This opportunity doesn't come around a lot. My friends and family are going to be there. They are going to be here supporting me and they understand that I have to get this done and they know how much it means to me. I'm going to see them when they come to the game, maybe go eat some time, but they understand what I'm here for and we have to take care of business.

"Everybody that's close to me kind of understands how I am when it comes to basketball. I like to stay on top of it and I like to stay focused. I know what's important and I know how to handle it. They know I love them and don't take it personally. So no distractions."

As she tried to deflect distractions, one thing January has welcomed is the Arizona sun as the temperature reached 106 Monday in Phoenix.

"This morning when I left Indy I had to have a long sleeve jacket on and then when I got here I was sweating. I miss the sun so much. But I'm excited to be here and to see friends and family at all that."