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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Indiana to Face Atlanta for Eastern Conference Championship After Dispatching New York in Three

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Photo Caption: Indiana’s Tamika Catchings recovered from a dreadful outing in Saturday’s Game Two loss at New York, in which she was held to just two points, to become the difference-maker in the Fever’s Game Three, 72-62, win over the New York Liberty Monday. In a superb all-round effort, Catchings logged 17 points, eight boards, four assists and three steals to help Indiana seal a berth in the WNBA Eastern Conference Finals which get underway Thursday. (File Photo)

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

By Mel Greenberg

It will be the defending Eastern Conference champion Atlanta Dream against the 2009 East-winning Indiana Fever, this year’s regular-season champs, when the two open their best-of-three conference finals series in Indianapolis on Thursday night.

The Fever advanced for the second time in three seasons Monday night with a 72-62 victory against the New York Liberty at home in Conseco Fieldhouse that avenged last season’s ouster by the Liberty in Game Three at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

The New Yorkers, who are actually spending the next three summers as New Jersey women across the Hudson River at the Prudential Center in Newark while the Garden undergoes renovations, had hoped to return to the conference finals after tying their semifinal series against the Fever, 1-1, Saturday with a lopsided win at what passes these days for home.

But it was not to be as coach-general manager John Whisenant finished his first season with the Liberty following a long-running stint with the former Sacramento Monarchs.

It is to be, however, for Coach Lin Dunn and the Fever, who are still alive to give veteran All-Star Tamika Catchings a chance at her first championship in the 10-year career the former Tennessee standout has spent as the face of the Indiana franchise.

Now all the Fever have to do is figure out how to beat Atlanta, which swept Indiana 4-0 in their regular-season match-ups with three of the wins coming down the stretch in the last several weeks.

“I’m not sure we have played them at full strength in any game all year,” Dunn said. “We are not afraid of Atlanta. We are looking forward to playing them, especially here.”

Dunn and her troops, the East’s No. 1 seed this season, certainly calculated how to bounce back from Saturday’s thrashing in New Jersey and to send the fourth-seeded Liberty, led by Cappie Pondexter, home, once again falling short of their WNBA championship aspirations.

“We did all the things we needed to do, defensively,” Dunn said. “At the end of the day, our defense won the game. We set the tone early. We got to the free throw line. We kept Pondexter under control by having five different people guard her.”

Though that may be true, Katie Douglas, who had a game-high 21 points, was the key match-up on Pondexter, who was locked down by the Fever and held to 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting from the field.

“She had a super series,” Dunn said of Douglas, the former Purdue star. “She’s attacking, she’s scoring, she’s defending. You have to give Katie a lot of credit; her assignment was Cappie. When she was in the game, she was on Cappie, and I think she really did a good job bothering her.”

Photo Caption: Indiana’s Katie Douglas has had an impressive playoff series, notching 25 points in last Thursday’s Game One win, a game-high 20 in Saturday’s loss at New York, and once again leading all scorers with 21 points in Monday’s Game Three. Douglas also carried the laboring oar in defending Liberty star Cappie Pondexter, holding one of the league’s leading scorers to just 11 points on just 28 percent from the field. (File Photo)
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

Douglas said of defending the former Rutgers standout: “For me, it was just important watching a lot of film, knowing her tendencies, just getting into her and not letting her catch the ball, make her catch it outside of her comfort zone. My teammates were great as far as talking to me, letting me know about screens.”

Though the votes from a national media panel for the annual WNBA MVP award were cast at the end of the regular season and have since been counted but not announced, Dunn still tossed a lobbying statement for Catchings, who is one of the leading candidates.

“There is more to being valuable than just scoring and Catchings does it all,” she said of her star forward who bounced back from Saturday’s two-point struggle to score 17 in Monday’s decisive game three.

Catchings also had eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. Perhaps most importantly, Catchings was the Fever player who put the game away with a three-pointer and a put-back to give Indiana a 10-point lead after New York had rallied to close to within five, 54-59, with four minutes left in the game.

“It was a very physical game,” Catchings said. “I think we knew it was going to be, based on the first two games. Tonight the difference between the last game and this game was our aggressiveness as a team.”

Indeed the Fever mined 26 points out of 20 New York turnovers and outscored the Liberty at the foul line, 21-7.

Five Fever steals were grabbed by Erin Phillips who scored 12 points in Monday’s game. Phillips emerged as the unlikely heroine in Game One at Conseco last Thursday, when she knocked down the game winnner, an off-balance jumper, seconds before time expired to put the Fever up by two after New York had rallied from a 15-point deficit to tie the score in the waning minutes.

After one of the worst performances of her career in Saturday’s Game-Two loss, Catchings had resolved to do better. 

“For me, I was really disappointed,” she said. “It’s not about me having a great game for us to win. But I have to have a decent game. I came back in the gym after we got home and went over all the shots I had missed and went through it over and over in my head and watched some game tape.

“And then I knew I had to come out and be better defensive[ly] on Nicole [Powell],” she said. “In the beginning I had to be in her face and all over her. I think that kind of helped us from a defensive standpoint.”

Photo Caption: With Liberty All-Star Cappie Pondexter held to just 11 points, Nicole Powell took over as scoring leader for New York, notching 19 points, including three-of-four from long distance, to go with five boards. Powell also had a team-high 19 in New York’s Game Two win in New Jersey on Saturday.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe©

“I’m proud of my team,” Whisenant said of his Liberty. “We didn’t play well on Indiana’s floor. I wish them good luck.

“We had 13 turnovers in the first half,” he added. “We beat them in every statistic. They had 14 points from the free throw line. The defense worked because they took away the smooth offense we had so we had to freelance.”

“The unforced turnovers is what was disappointing,” said former Stanford star Nicole Powell, who repeated her Saturday scoring performance with 19 points to lead the Liberty, said of Monday night’s loss.

Someone should have looked at the calendar back in June and bet the Fever to make the conference finals .

This is the fourth time Indiana has achieved that distinction—all coming in odd years beginning in 2005, and then 2007, 2009, and now 2011.

Meanwhile, New York has never won a playoff game at Conseco Fieldhouse.



Originally published Mon, September 19, 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.