INDIANAPOLIS — A career night for Fever center Natalie Achonwa was not enough, as the Fever fell to the Las Vegas Aces 101-92 in overtime Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I was just really trying to stay aggressive,” says Achonwa. “When you have teams that are big across the board like that, they tend to not box out, so they really just want to go get the rebound. I really focused on that, to go get rebounds and out hustle them.”
Despite the impressive performance, Achonwa was more focused on the outcome of the game, “It’s a good personal best,” she says, ‘but unfortunately if you don’t get the W in the win column then it really doesn’t make a difference.”
The loss drops the Fever to 0-9, continuing the team’s difficult start to the 2018 season.
Las Vegas was led by rookie forward A’ja Wilson who had 35 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks for the Aces.
“She’s a dynamic, hungry player,” says Fever head coach Pokey Chatman about Wilson’s performance. “Her mindset is that of a five-year vet… I don’t feel like she ever missed a shot.”
Guard Kayla McBride had 18, while the duo of Tamera Young and Dearica Hamby each added 11 for Las Vegas.
The starting backout duo produced well for Indiana, as Tiffany Mitchell had 17 points and six assists. Kelsey Mitchell added 17 points for Indiana. Candice Dupree continued her consistent play with 16 points, while guard Erica Wheeler produced a near triple-double off the bench, with 12 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.
The first quarter action was back and forth, with neither team being able to take a sizable lead. Achonwa opened the game with a pair of baskets, first on a second chance attempt and followed by a midrange jumper.
The two teams would trade runs, as the Aces went on an eight-point run, taking an early 12-7 lead. The Fever would respond with a seven-point run of their own, as a Kelsey Mitchell 3-pointer and a pair of midrange jumpers by Dupree would regain the lead for Indiana, 14-12. Las Vegas outscored Indiana from that point, taking a 23-20 lead after the first 10 minutes of action.
Wilson was dominant in the first quarter for Las Vegas. The first overall selection in the 2018 WNBA draft scored from the post and on several face up jumpers to accumulate 10 points in the opening minutes.
Tiffany Mitchell opened up the second with made layup that drew the foul and she would bury the free throw to complete the 3-point play. Kelsey Bone scored on back to back possessions from the post to open the quarter for the Aces and Hamby would add five quick points as the bench kept the offense moving for Las Vegas.
Achonwa would score four more points in the final minutes of the half, as well as inhaling several offensive rebounds to give her a double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds in the first half.
It appeared as though Indiana would trail by seven at the half before Wilson would collect a missed Hamby 3-pointer for the put back basket with less than a second on the clock, leading Las Vegas to a 46-37 advantage at the break.
The third quarter would a big one for the Fever and for Achonwa. She would carry the offensive load for Indiana in the frame, scoring 12 points and collecting three rebounds. She would score from all over the court, scoring four baskets in the paint with a jumper and pair of free throws to showcase her offensive repertoire. Her basket with 1:48 remaining in the third would give her 22 points, surpassing her previous career high of 21 which she set earlier this season (against Washington on May 20th).
The Fever would make up ground, trailing just 66-60 after three.
Achonwa would bring Indiana within two, 71-69, after the defender bit on her pump fake at the free throw line, allowing her to cruise by for the easy layup. The two-point deficit was the closest the game had been since things were tied at 29 early in the second.
Wilson made a driving layup with 2:59 remaining, giving Las Vegas an 83-76 lead and deflating the crowd.
The game seemed like it belonged to the Aces before Erica Wheeler led a late game charge to bring Indiana back.
She disrupted a Las Vegas inbound play with the steal and layup that cut the deficit to just four. On the next trip down, she perused the defense and found a clean look with a pull up jumper in the middle of the lane which found the bottom of the net. The Fever trailed 84-82.
On the next defensive possession, Wheeler would again make an impact, drawing an offensive foul and giving Indiana another valuable late game possession.
The Fever would trust their 12-year veteran down the stretch, as Candice Dupree found her spot with a fadeaway jumper over the outstretched Wilson that would tie the game at 84. The Aces would have three looks to take the lead in the final seconds, but all three found iron and sent the game to overtime.
It appeared Indiana was the hot team going in to overtime, but they quickly cooled off as the Aces scored the first eight points of the extra time and extended the lead to 92-84. The Aces would continue their blistering overtime period from there, winning the extra time 17-8 and giving the team its second victory of the season.
“It’s really the defense,” said Wheeler. “We have to have more good stops and more ball pressure and not let people get what they want.”
The Fever will travel to Atlanta for a Thursday matchup with the Dream as the team continues to search for its first win.