WNBA: Catchings Leads Indiana to Key Road Win in Washington
WASHINGTON – Nobody would have blamed venerable Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings if she took Tuesday’s encounter against the Washington Mystics a little personal.
Instead, it was all business for Catchings, who scored 10 of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter to help the Fever claim a key 73-62 victory over the Mystics in another critical Eastern Conference clash at the Verizon Center.
With the win, the Fever (13-9 overall) created a three-way tie for second place with the Mystics (13-9) and Sky (14-10).
They all trail first-place New York (15-6) by 2.5 games. Connecticut (11-10) is lurking behind everybody in fifth place. The loss snapped Washington’s season-high five-game home court winning streak.
A monument of excellence in the twilight of her career, Catchings dazzled by making 9-of-18 shots from the floor and finishing with six rebounds to match Tina Thompson as the second-leading rebounder in WNBA history (3,070). She already is the league’s second-leading scorer and its all-time leader in steals and free throws.
Asked of tying Thompson on the league’s all-time rebounding chart, Catchings quipped, “I’m old. That’s what that means.”
The 36-year old All-Star added, “It’s important for me to go hard every time I step on the floor. It’s the way I play.”
Catchings’ performance was much better than the atypical one she experienced here on July 17 in a double-digit loss to the Mystics.
In that contest, Catchings was 0-for-7 from the field and scored two points. Catchings didn’t have anything to prove against the Mystics, but it was nice to enjoy a strong effort that resulted in a key road win.
“This game was not personal, for me,” Catchings said. “I looked at this game like a playoff game. As a team, we left here with a bad taste in our mouths the last time.
“We really wanted to come in and play well tonight especially after our last performance as a team and coming out and getting blown out. So it was really important not necessarily just me personally, but as a team it was really personal to come out and play the way we know we are capable of playing.”
Catchings had plenty of help from her buddies.
Former University of Maryland and Mystics star Marissa Coleman added 11 points for the Fever, as did offseason trade acquisition Shenise Johnson who scored in double figures for the 11th time in the past 12 games, coinciding with a streak that has seen the Fever win nine of 12.
Johnson, who also led the Fever with nine rebounds, was a difference maker in third quarter as Indiana gained the separation it needed to even the season series at 2-2 against the Mystics.
The energetic Johnson had six points, three rebounds and two assists all during a game-altering 16-2 third quarter burst that helped Indiana turn a 36-35 edge into a comfortable 52-37 bulge with 93 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Though the Mystics closed the third quarter with seven straight points and trailed 52-44 heading into the final frame, they never whittled Indiana’s deficit under that margin, largely because Catchings couldn’t be stopped.
Indiana owned a 37-26 rebounding edge and erased a 12-point second quarter deficit to win for the fifth time in six games since the All-Star Break.
“I was just really proud of our team because it’s like a playoff atmosphere and every game is a battle,” Indiana head coach Stephanie White said. “For us, we came back and regrouped in the first and second half on the defensive end.
"We played with so much energy, got to the loose balls, made all the hustle plays, and then we were shot makers in the second half. I was really proud of the way our team came out and played and competed the entire ball game. Specifically our effort on both ends in the second half.”
For the Mystics, playing their fourth game in six games, they couldn’t maintain the momentum generated from a fast start that yielded a 29-17 advantage with 6:20 remaining in the second quarter. The Fever’s aggressive and trapping defense made life tough for the Mystics offense.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt led the Mystics with 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Ivory Latta added 13 points and Tayler Hill delivered 12 points off the bench for the Mystics, who also got four blocked shots from LaToya Sanders. Kara Lawson saw action for the first time since the first half of the San Antonio game on July 31. She had been out with a bad back. Lawson scored five points in 13 minutes of action.
When asked how the Fever won, Washington head coach Mike Thibault didn’t hide his disappointment as he got right to the point.
“They bullied us better,” Thibault said. “From about a couple minutes into the third quarter until the early fourth they got every loose ball, they got offensive rebound, we got shoved around and if you want to play at the highest level you have to respond to that and I don’t think we did that quick enough to stop their run.
" We used a couple timeouts to try and stop their run but there has to be a will to stop it and it’s about them having a little more experience of being through it, it’s part of their mentality, and if you’re a team like them you basically foul on every play and see what gets called, and then it’s not a bad strategy.
" Some nights you get away with it and some nights you don’t but there are NBA teams that play that same way and if you’re going to play with those teams you have to be able to withstand that mentally and physically.”
The Mystics conclude their homestand Sunday afternoon when they host the Minnesota Lynx, the team with the best record in the WNBA. It will be the first of two straight games against the Lynx. Meanwhile, Indiana makes its annual west coast trek beginning with a stop in Phoenix to meet the reigning WNBA champions Sunday afternoon.
“We need to get away from the gym,” Latta said. “That’s what [Coach Thibault] said—get away from the gym. Go do something fun. Just get away from the game of basketball right now.
"What are we at, four or five games in seven days? That’s pretty tough. But we’re not going to make any excuses. When we come back to the gym we’re going to be ready and focused and get ready for a good team on Sunday in Minnesota.”
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