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Friday, July 19, 2019

Catchings Puts Up MVP Performance as Indiana Takes Game One of Eastern Conference Finals

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Photo Caption: 2011 was Tamika Catchings’s year to shine. Known for her work ethic and outstanding defensive and all-around play, Catchings, the league’s only player ever to amass 5,000 points, 2,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists captured the WNBA’s MVP award for the first time in her illustrious 10-year career with the Indiana Fever on Thursday. She then went on to help lead her team to an 82-74 victory over the Atlanta Dream in the Eastern Conference Finals, giving the Fever a 1-0 lead in the three-game series.

Photo Credit: Courtesy NBAE/Getty Images/Ron Hoskins

By Mel Greenberg

Night and day were not much different Thursday for Indiana Fever veteran All-Star Tamika Catchings. There was much to enjoy at both moments.

It was still daylight when the WNBA announced that the former Tennessee standout had won her first MVP award after being a top-five finalist for the honor in eight of her previous nine seasons as a pro – all with Indiana. (Catchings has actually been with the organization 11 seasons but didn’t play in her true rookie year because of a knee injury suffered as a senior at Tennessee.)

The sun had barely set when, after accepting the MVP trophy from WNBA president Laurel Richie, Catchings and teammate Tangela Smith led the way to an 82-74 opening-game victory over the Atlanta Dream in the best-of-three Eastern Conference finals at home at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The second game moves Sunday to the Dream’s Philips Arena where Indiana will attempt to close things out and return to the WNBA’s best-of-five finals for the second time in three seasons.

The Fever proved the playoffs could erase what came before in defeating Atlanta, which had beaten Indiana in all four meetings during the regular season.

Smith, a free-agent signee in the offseason, set a career playoff record in scoring a game-high 25 points, while despite early foul troubles and a slow scoring start, Catchings finished with a double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds in a solid all-around game for the Fever.

Photo Caption: While teammate Tamika Catchings took home the WNBA MVP trophy for the 2011 regular season, Indiana Fever center Tangela Smith was the most valuable player on the floor in this particular game. Smith recorded a postseason personal best with a game-high 25 points, including five of seven from the arc, to go with eight boards, two assists and two swats.
Photo Credit: Courtesy NBAE/Getty Images/Ron Hoskins

Catchings also made a key steal off Atlanta All-Star Angel McCoughtry, then drove to the basket to scored late in the game to help seal the Fever’s win after the two teams played to a 57-57 tie through three quarters. It was far from the best outing of the newly crowned MVP’s career, but Catchings did everything her team needed and more, and that, in the end, is what makes her so valuable.

“Just going into the game, I kind of looked at us being the underdog,” Catchings said afterwards. “Everything happens in the fourth quarter, it’s a tie game, 0-0. That’s the focus we came into the fourth quarter with, making sure we rebounded and did the right defensive rotations.”

The word “free” and number “3” were both big for Indiana, who made 23 of 27 free-throw attempts while Atlanta was shooting just 9-for-17 from the line.

The top-seeded Fever also were deadly from the perimeter, with Smith netting five-of-seven three-point attempts for a Fever playoff record. Indiana’s Katie Douglas and Shavonte Zellous each dropped in another long ball, to give the Fever 21 points from downtown. Meanwhile, the Dream, who last years advanced to the WNBA finals in just their third season, hit on just three of their nine attempts from three-point range.

Smith, a 6-foot-3 forward-center, played at Iowa in the late 1990s after Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer recruited her when she was with the Hawkeyes. Smith was also with the Phoenix Mercury’s WNBA champs in 2007 and 2009 before signing with the Fever as a free agent this season.

“We brought Tan to the team to shoot threes,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said. “She has a free rein on threes.

“We had two keys to the game, tonight. One, we wanted to keep it close on the boards and two, we wanted to to get to the free-throw line,” Dunn added.

“Defensively, we did the things we needed to do to win. We matched their physical play.”

Indiana center Tammy Sutton-Brown added 10 points, while Katie Douglas posted 11, as did reserve guard Zellous.

“This is a deep team. We have more than one or two bullets in our gun,” Dunn said. “We can do things offensively and defensively.”

This season the Dream had to fight back from a 3-9 start to overcome injuries before stabilizing and surging to a 17-5 finish to earn the third seed in the East. But though the slow start cost them home-court advantage, the Dream are a team that travel well. A year ago, Atlanta took both openers on the road in the conference portion of the playoffs. This year, the Dream swept the Connecticut Sun in the East semifinals, also winning the opener on the road.

“We’ve had our backs to the wall before,” Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said. “We’ve had adversity. We’ve had to jump over hurdles. We will be ready Sunday.”

The Dream had to make do on a tough night for McCoughtry, who played only 17 minutes and was in deep foul trouble before being disqualified with her sixth. McCoughtry finished with just 11 points after averaging 24 in the Dream’s four-game regular season series with the Fever.

Lindsey Harding, a former Duke star, had 17 points running the Atlanta offense, while Armintie Price scored 13 points and Sancho Lyttle had 14.

“(McCoughtry) got a lot of fouls and didn’t get a chance to play her game,” Meadors said.

With the MVP finally attained, a WNBA title is the only thing now missing from Catchings’s illustrious resume.

Catchings, who said she was excited about the award but didn’t want it to distract the team from their larger mission, the WNBA championship, believes that after their narrow miss two years ago, the time could be ripe for the Fever.

“This is probably as good a team as we’ve had in a while,” Catchings said.

Catchings, who is about as unassuming a celebrity as you might ever hope to meet, also cited her teammates in accepting the award prior to the tip-off.

“My goal every year is to win a championship and this year we have an opportunity to do it,” Catchings said. “When you cheer tonight don’t just cheer for the MVP, cheer for (her teammates) too because I would not be here without them.”

Dunn extolled Catchings’s worth.

“Tamika sets the tone, saying, ‘This is who we are this is the way we want to play.’ All good teams have that,” Dunn said.

In the voting from a 40-member media panel of sportswriters and broadcasters, Catchings surprisingly distanced the competition, receiving 21 first-place votes and 292 points.

Tina Charles, the 2010 rookie of the year with the Connecticut Sun, was runner-up with 209 points, followed by the Chicago Sky’s Sylvia Fowles’ with 148 points. Seattle’s Sue Bird had 106 points, and Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen had 104 points.

Throughout her career, the 6-1 forward out of the University of Tennessee has garnered numerous accolades including seven All-Star team selections, two Olympic gold medals and the 2002 WNBA Rookie of the Year Award. Additionally, she was honored as the first recipient of the WNBA’s Dawn Staley Leadership Award in 2008, which is presented to the player who best exemplifies the characteristics of a leader in the community and reflects Staley’s leadership, spirit, charitable efforts and love for the game.

This season Catchings, whose father Harvey played for the NBA Philadelphia 76ers, became the first in the WNBA to record 5,000 career points, 2,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists. Catchings established that record on August 13, in an 82-71 home win against New York, in which she also tied her career-high of 32 points, making her the sixth player in WNBA history to reach the 5,000-point mark.

Catchings also led the Fever to the top seed in the Eastern Conference this season, averaging 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals. The only member of the Fever to lead the team in points, rebounds and assists in the same game, Catchings did so three times. She recorded four double-doubles, and grabbed at least 10 rebounds six times during the 2011 campaign. She shot a career-high .883 from the free throw line and converted .438 of her field goal attempts, the second best percentage of her career. 

Known for her stellar defense and outstanding all-round play, Catchings is the only player to rank in the league’s all-time career top 10 in points (sixth), rebounds (sixth), assists (ninth), and steals (first).
Currently the league’s all-time career steals leader (775), Catchings, who has been voted WNBA Defensive Player of the Year a league-leading four times, was the top vote-getter in this year’s All-Star balloting for the third time in her career.

She was also voted this past summer as one of the 15 all-time players in the history of the league.

“What sets Tamika apart is not what she does but how she does it,” the WNBA’s new president Laurel Richie said in making the award. “She plays with dedication and passion.”

Asked who had been most influential in her development as a young player, Catchings said, “Always, my family has been my biggest supporters. Growing up, my favorite player was (NBA star) Alonzo Mourning. I loved his leadership style and everything about him.”

Despite the near misses for the MVP over her career (she was runner-up for the award in 2003, 2009 and 2010, finished among the top three in in the media balloting in five seasons and among the top five in eight different seasons), Catchings said she didn’t feel that the award was a long time coming.

“I don’t know why this year was my year, but I’m going to take it in stride and keep it moving and finish this journey off,” she said.

Three-time NBA MVP and Hall of Famer Larry Bird, the President of Pacers Basketball Operations, who had publicly campaigned for Catchings as an MVP candidate late this season, reiterated why he felt Catchings deserved the honor:

“Everyone here at Pacers Sports & Entertainment is not only happy to have an MVP, but also a quality person who is not only great on the court, but in the community as well. This is very deserving as Tamika fits the true description of an MVP. It’s another in a long list of accomplishments, all of which we’re extremely proud for her.”

“I just got big tears in my eyes,” said a thrilled Fever COO and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf. “It’s not just about scoring. It’s the way she affects a game, how she affects the outcome and all the winning seasons we’ve had. … I never gave up hope that at some point the media and the folks who voted on this would see the effect she has.”

“If you haven’t seen her play you better get to this arena quick,” Krauskopf added.

Hall of Famer Pat Summitt, who coached Catchings as a collegian, also extended her congratulations and praise for the former Lady Vol:

“I was thrilled to hear that Tamika had won the 2011 WNBA Most Valuable Player Award,” said Summitt. “She totally symbolizes every aspect of what a most valuable player should be through her leadership and everyday excellence on the court.  I am, and always have been, extremely proud of how Tamika goes about her business.  I have been fortunate to coach a lot of great players but there has always been a `specialness’ between Catch and I because she is so real.”

Catchings’s MVP award was the first for either the NBA Indiana Pacers or WNBA Fever who operate under the same ownership. In honor of being named the WNBA Most Valuable Player, Catchings will receive $15,000 and a specially-designed trophy.

Below are the complete results of the 2011 WNBA Most Valuable Player of the Year award votes. Players were awarded 10 points for each first-place vote, seven points for each second-place vote, five for third, three for fourth and one for each fifth-place vote received. The number of first-place votes received, if any, is noted in parentheses:

Points Player/First-Place Votes Team
292 Tamika Catchings (21) Indiana Fever
209 Tina Charles (6) Connecticut Sun
148 Sylvia Fowles (6) Chicago Sky
106 Sue Bird (2) Seattle Storm
104 Lindsay Whalen (4) Minnesota Lynx
70 Angel McCoughtry Atlanta Dream
65 Diana Taurasi Phoenix Mercury
33 Seimone Augustus Minnesota Lynx
18 Becky Hammon San Antonio Silver Stars
10 Penny Taylor Phoenix Mercury
9 Cappie Pondexter New York Liberty
5 Candace Parker Los Angeles Sparks
1 Rebekkah Brunson Minnesota Lynx
1 Maya Moore Minnesota Lynx

Past recipients of the WNBA MVP award include the following:

Year Player Team
2011 Tamika Catchings Indiana Fever
2010 Lauren Jackson Seattle Storm
2009 Diana Taurasi Phoenix Mercury
2008 Candace Parker Los Angeles Sparks
2007 Lauren Jackson Seattle Storm
2006 Lisa Leslie Los Angeles Sparks
2005 Sheryl Swoopes Houston Comets
2004 Lisa Leslie Los Angeles Sparks
2003 Lauren Jackson Seattle Storm
2002 Sheryl Swoopes Houston Comets
2001 Lisa Leslie Los Angeles Sparks
2000 Sheryl Swoopes Houston Comets
1999 Yolanda Griffith Sacramento Monarchs
1998 Cynthia Cooper Houston Comets
1997 Cynthia Cooper Houston Comets




Originally published Fri, September 23, 2011

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.