CHICAGO – Erica Wheeler scored a season-high 28 points and added eight assists to lead the Indiana Fever to a 76-69 road win over the Chicago Sky, Friday at Wintrust Arena.
Wheeler’s performance included six 3-pointers, 7-of-14 shooting overall and a perfect eight free-throw attempts. Her four free throws in the final 20 seconds sealed the victory as Indiana staved off a late Sky rally.
Indiana (5-5) avenged a loss to the Sky just six days ago and won its fifth straight road game against the Sky. Chicago (5-3) snapped a four-game win streak while losing at Wintrust Arena for the first time this season. The Fever, who started 0-10 a year ago, moved to .500 or better after 10 games for the first time since 2014.
Indiana led by nine points at halftime and used a pair of Wheeler 3-pointers to race to a 20-point lead, 60-40 with 3:07 left in the third. Chicago, though, answered with 10 straight points in a two-and-a-half-minute sprint to cut the deficit in half heading to the fourth.
“We knew they were going to make a run,” said Wheeler. “They’re a great team. We stayed tough in our ‘D.’ We took their punch but we stayed true to our game plan.”
The Fever maintained control throughout the final period, but the Sky steadily chipped into the lead, cutting the Indiana advantage to eight on a 3-pointer from Allie Quigley; to six on a three-point play by Diamond DeShields; and to five with 3:24 to play on a DeShields 3-pointer.
Indiana’s rookie center Teaira McCowan fouled out with 20.9 seconds remaining, sending DeShields to the line for two free throws as Chicago crept within a single possession at 72-69. After an Indiana timeout, Wheeler was fouled immediately on the inbounds play and deposited two free throws for a two-possession lead. On the ensuing possession, Quigley missed a 3-point shot with :15 seconds left.
Wheeler corralled the rebound, was fouled and hit two more charity shots to seal the win.
“We started really well and put them in a 20-point hole,” said veteran forward Candice Dupree. “We could have done a better job of holding it, but we showed composure to keep the lead. We took away their strengths and overall did really well defensively.”
Echoing the sentiment, Fever coach Pokey Chatman added, “We had good effort defensively. We defended a really high-powered offensive team. You saw what [the Sky] did to that 20-point lead – they shredded it in a nanosecond. But we regrouped and never let them take control.”
McCowan finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds, and Dupree ended with 14 points and 10 boards as Indiana managed a 36-25 rebound margin, its largest of the season.
DeShields paced four Sky players in double-figure scoring with 19 points. Stefanie Dolson pitched in 11. Courtney Vandersloot and Quigley each added 10.
With Wheeler keying the Fever’s 8-of-17 3-point shooting, Indiana shot 44 percent overall and used a stingy defense to limit the Sky to 37 percent shooting. It was the eighth time in 10 games the Fever outshot its opponent.
Chicago scored the game’s first five points on a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer from Dolson, but the Fever used a 13-4 run to seize control and lead 22-16 after one period. After the Sky pulled to a tie at 27, the Fever used another 13-4 run to close the half on the strength of consecutive 3-pointers from Tiffany Mitchell and a pair by Wheeler
Mitchell and Wheeler combined for 7-of-11 shooting, six 3-pointers and 23 of Indiana’s 40 points at intermission.
“She was aggressive tonight,” added Dupree about Wheeler who finished with the second-best scoring output of her career. “She hit some shots, she knocked down a bunch of free throws and played really well.”
“For us to come in here and get this win, it gives us some juice,” said Wheeler.
Indiana concludes a three-game road swing at Seattle on Sunday.