By David Siegel
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The Indiana Fever versus the Connecticut Sun has become one of the more fiercely contested rivalries in the WNBA in recent years, and last night’s contest at Mohegan Sun Arena was no exception.
It took the last of Kara Lawson’s 22 points, a seventeen-foot contested jump shot with 5.2 seconds left in overtime to ice the back and forth game for Connecticut. Even then, the outcome was not completely determined until Briann January’s missed jump shot at the buzzer (which she hotly claimed she was fouled on).
A close game throughout, the game did not have a real flow to it, as the referees seemed to call the less significant fouls and violations while ignoring some of the more aggressive ones.
“They have one of the great, great players in Catchings, but she is also one of the most physical players in our league,” said Sun coach Mike Thibault. “She learned early on that if you play a certain way all the time, you are allowed to play that way. That is the way it is throughout pro basketball, players establish reputations. Asjha [Jones], who has played almost as long as Catchings gets foul calls that aren’t at the other end and that is part of pro basketball.”
The Fever started slowly, hitting only 33 percent of their first quarter shots, including an 0-of-4 from Katie Douglas, as the Sun opened up a 28-17 lead after the first quarter. Role players Kalana Greene and Allison Hightower got the Sun rolling, combining to shoot a perfect 4-of-4 from the field with two three-point shots.
For Greene, the success continued throughout the game, as she poured in a season high 12 points on perfect 5-of-5 shooting, adding two rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in just over eighteen minutes.
“You’ll never see me taking a shot I’m not comfortable taking,” said Greene. “I pride myself on that, and I only take a shot I know I can make. Today I got more opportunities than I have in the last couple of games. I don’t think I was a terror from outside, I scored in different ways to keep our team in the lead.”
Front court players Tina Charles, Jones and Catchings may be the leading scorers on their respective teams, but it was the guards, Lawson and Douglas that dueled throughout the second half, leading their teams in the back and forth affair.
Lawson scored fifteen points in the second half and overtime, including two three-pointers and a perfect 5-of-5 from the foul line. Douglas kept Indiana’s hopes alive, hitting 6-of-10 shots including 4-of-5 from three in the second half and overtime, for sixteen points. Douglas added three assists and two steals during that time period.
For Indiana, the game marked the return of guard Erin Phillips from her training with the Australian national team, and while Phillips commented it was one o’clock in the morning for her when the game tipped off after her travel, she provided Indiana with a big lift off the bench, scoring eleven points including two three-pointers.
The Fever continues to be somewhat uneven. They feature several strong inside players in Jessica Davenport (who scored the 1,000th point of her career), Tammy Sutton-Brown, Erlana Larkins, and now Catchings at power forward, and outstanding athletes in Phillips, Shavonte Zellous, and January. However with the exception of Douglas and to an extent Jeanette Pohlen, they do not have a number of reliable outside shooters. Accordingly, when the team drives the lane, as Catchings, January, Phillips and Douglas do so well, they cannot make the defense pay with consistent outside shooting.
In overtime this was especially apparent, as the only Fever points came from a Douglas layup and jump shot. Catchings (2), Phillips (2), and January all missed shots during the overtime period.
For the Sun, the confidence Thibault showed in his role players paid off in this game, as Greene, Hightower, Mistie Mims and Tan White combined for thirty points, eleven rebounds, and six assists, while only committing two turnovers. This was huge in a game where the interior defense of Indiana held Charles and Jones to fourteen and eight points respectively.
The victory gives the Sun a 2-0 lead in the season series, with a chance to clinch the series with their divisional rival later this week; at a minimum they have clinched a split. The Sun are undefeated in conference this season, and have already clinched the season series with New York, and at least a split with Atlanta.
Both teams will have a lot on the line in the rematch in Indiana on Thursday, and Charles knows how important the game will be for the Fever.
“They are a great team, they are always in the playoffs, they always work hard. They have a great leader in Tamika Catchings. They are disciplined, they capitalize if you don’t rotate properly, they are just a really great team.”
She smiled and added, “we’ll watch film, we’ll make adjustments on things.”
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