Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

WNBA Report: Rookie Natasha Howard's Scoring Outburst Propels Indiana Over Washington

(Guru note: Rob has a nice sidebar on Indy's Sydney Carter under this post or it will be soon if you are reading this in the 1 pm hour as soon as i get it edited and time posted to make sure it falls in the right place since the summer league report is still pending -- waiting for two game details, everything else ready. )

By Rob Knox

For one night in her fledging WNBA career, Indiana Fever rookie Natasha Howard had all the answers to help her team enjoy a happy flight back to the 317 area code.

Howard delivered a game-high 20 points on an efficient 8-for-12 shooting effort as the Fever defeated the Washington Mystics, 80-77, at the Verizon Center Wednesday night. When the Mystics pulled within four points on two occasions in the final four minutes, Howard immediately responded with big baskets.

Despite a 6 a.m. wakeup call and flying into Washington Wednesday morning, Howard finished one point shy of her career-high 21 markers that she scored in her second professional game against Atlanta on May 17. Following her ninth double-digit scoring game of the season, Howard said she was “tired, hungry and ready to lie down.”

The 6 foot, 3 inch Florida State product deserved it after her effort against the Mystics. After enduring three straight scoreless games last week, Howard has rebounded in a big way by averaging 12.3 points in the Fever’s last three games. Indiana shot 53 percent from the field and beat Washington for the second time in three meetings this season.

“We came out with a lot of energy today and were prepared for the challenge of playing here in Washington,” Howard said. “I had to get back into my rhythm. For a minute, I didn’t have confidence in myself, but I found it. It helped that my teammates have confidence in me so I was able to go out do something to help my team.”

The victory also enabled the Fever (8-9) to leapfrog the Mystics (7-11) and into fourth place in the congested Eastern Conference standings.

Indiana has won two straight after losing five of six.

By the time Washington forward Monique Currie’s desperation heave from over half court bounced harmlessly to the floor, the Fever had won back-to-back road games for the first time since 2011.

Howard had plenty of help from Erlana Larkins, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Lynetta Kizer, who starred at nearby Maryland, scored all 10 of her points during a 31-point second quarter eruption for the Fever. She was a big reason why Indiana shot 53 percent from the field and beat Washington for the second time in three meetings this season.

“We’ve been challenging her to get tougher, more physical and to be more aggressive,” Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Fever coach Lin Dunn said of Howard. “It’s a journey for a rookie and sometimes they don’t understand what we’re talking about. She has the speed and quickness to play the fast game. She’s starting to get more comfortable in what we want her to do and take that open shot. I thought she looked really good tonight.”

The Fever looked really good in the second quarter when the game turned in its favor for good. Indiana unleashed a 14-for-17 shooting exhibition that fueled its victory. The Fever outscored the Mystics, 31-14 during that 10-minute period of excellence. Indiana got scoring from six different players during the quarter with Kizer leading the way as she made five of her six shot attempts.

Indiana finished the second quarter on a 20-5 run over the final five minutes, 39 seconds. The Fever made nine consecutive shots during its scoring spree. Trailing 24-22, Maggie Lucas tied the game with a jumper. By the time Marissa Coleman dropped in a 3-pointer with 36 seconds remaining before halftime, the Fever enjoyed a 42-27 bulge before the Mystics scored to end the half.

Dunn, who has seen everything during her distinguished career, was surprised by the Fever’s hot shooting in the second quarter.

“I don’t think ever in my career, we’ve been 14-for-17 in a quarter,” Dunn quipped. “I thought we got some good looks. I don’t think they were forced shots. I thought we were moving the ball, making the extra pass and knocking down the open shot. We got a great effort from our bigs and I thought Kizer gave us a great lift in the second quarter.”

Larkins also enjoyed hearing the statistics about the Fever’s scorching quarter.

“That was pretty amazing,” Larkins said. “I think we took high percentage shots. The ones that weren’t high percentage, they still went in. So thank you to the basketball gods for letting our shots go in tonight. This win meant a lot for us especially coming off of last night’s win in Atlanta. This was a great confidence booster for our team.”

The Fever needed everybody’s best to hold off a Mystics team that saw all five starters reach double figures led by Currie’s second straight 18-point performance. Emma Meesseman and Kia Vaughn scored 13 points each. Bria Hartley added 12 points and Ivory Latta added 11 points.

Washington swooshed to an 8-0 lead three minutes into the game before the Fever found its groove. Latta drained a 3-pointer to give the Mystics their largest edge of the game, 13-4, with 2:58 remaining in the first quarter.

Washington starts a five-game road trip in Atlanta Saturday night.

“We didn’t put two halves together,” Currie said. “In the second quarter, we didn’t play great defense and they were able to move the ball wherever they wanted to and stop us on defense. In the second half, we came out aggressive on defense and got our hands on a lot of passes and got steals, which led to easy baskets. That’s what got us back into the game.”

NOTES: The Mystics honored Dunn in a brief pre-game ceremony and presented her with a trip to a Florida resort along with flowers.

Mystic coach Mike Thibault said in his eloquent pre-game speech about Dunn, “She left her mark on the game and we’re all better for it.”…CNN political strategist Donna Brazile was a guest of Dunn to the game…Brazile met with the Fever following the game and took a group picture with them.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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