The WNBA opened its 20th season Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a physical game between the Indiana Fever and Dallas Wings. The matchup also marked the first game for the Dallas Wings since relocating from Tulsa, and the final home opener of Tamika Catchings’ career.
The Fever got off to an outstanding start and played suffocating defensive early on, taking a 22-9 lead with 2:11 remaining in the first quarter. The Wings were able to find their stride as they went on a 10-0 run to close out the opening period and neither team could gain the momentum in a second quarter which saw multiple lead changes before ending in three point, 47-44, advantage for Indiana.
The home team came out sluggish after the intermission, falling behind by as many as seven in the quarter before cutting the deficit to four heading into the final period. The Fever fought hard in the fourth quarter, but untimely fouls and turnovers prevented them from mounting a comeback, ultimately falling 79-90.
Tamika Catchings went out early in the fourth quarter after absorbing an elbow to her abdomen while on defense, but did return to the court after a brief rest.
Despite the loss, there were a few bright spots for the Fever. Indiana shot 46 percent from the field while holding Dallas to 42 percent. Post presence Erlana Larkins was in mid-season form, notching a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds to start off the season strong. Newcomer Erica Wheeler chipped in with 13 points of her own in the opener.
Touted Fever rookie Tiffany Mitchell made an immediate impression, scoring 16 of her game high 18 points in the first half. Mitchell took full advantage of her spot in the starting lineup in the absence of Briann January, who continues to recover from off-season knee surgery.
The Fever were also without their versatile All-Star Marissa Coleman, forcing them to rely on some relatively inexperienced players in the backcourt. The Wings’ aggressive defensive play forced the Fever to commit 19 costly turnovers.
The Dallas bench proved to be handful as their second unit made major contributions throughout the game. Indiana was unable to keep Dallas off of the free throw line as well, giving them 36 attempts. Dallas point guard Odyssey Sims scored 10 of her 14 points from the charity stripe.
Plenette Pierson led the way with 17 points for a Dallas team that was without star guard Skylar Diggins. Diggins dressed for the game, but did not see any playing time.
The Fever will look to pick up their first win of the 2016 WNBA Season on Wednesday, May 18, when they take on Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.