Fever Persevere for White’s First Head-Coaching Win
INDIANAPOLIS – It ranked as a memorable night for Stephanie White – and not just because she collected her first victory as a head coach.
It was special for White because of the Indiana Fever’s full-bore effort. Special because of their perseverance. Notable because of their clutch plays in the waning moments against the defending WNBA champions.
“I’m really proud of how we gutted it out,” said White, the Fever’s first-year coach, whose team knocked off the Phoenix Mercury, 77-74, on Friday night and lifted its record to 1-3. “We know it’s going to be loose-ball, tough, scrappy types of plays that are going to win us ball games.
PHOTO GALLERY: Fever 77, Mercury 74 »
“Particularly in the last four minutes of the fourth quarter,” White added, “our execution on both ends of the floor was very good. I know I’m really proud of the effort; I’m exponentially proud of the execution.”
Nobody executed better than Fever star Tamika Catchings, who finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. She scored 12 in the fourth quarter on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from the line.
“Was she 25 again?” White said about the 35-year-old veteran. “She looked like she was young. … She dominated in every aspect of the ball game. She had control of our team. She had control of the ball. She controlled the moment.
“She picked and chose her spots on when to have her foot on the brake and when to have it on the accelerator.”
With 5:54 left in the game, Catchings accelerated a little too hard and was called for a personal foul and then a technical foul. Three Phoenix free throws tied the game at 64. White quickly sat Catchings down for about 1 ½ minutes.
“I thought it was good Steph pulled me out, being able to take a step back and look at everything,” said Catchings.
Catchings returned, totally locked in. She converted a three-point play with 2:59 left, then added another free throw and a layup.
With 58 seconds remaining, Catchings unleashed a 75-foot pass that hit Natalie Achonwa in stride for a layup, sending the Fever up 73-69. It was a thing of beauty.
“That’s what we’ve talked about, the free-flowing offense, getting up and down,” Catchings said. “Tonight we did that down the stretch.”
With 23.9 seconds remaining and Indiana’s lead at only two, White called a timeout and set up a pick-and-roll play with Briann January handling the ball and Catchings as the screener.
“We wanted Bri to attack,” White said, “and we wanted Catch to be the one that (January) was in the pick-and-roll with. We knew in that situation, (Phoenix) would probably have to switch and so one of them would get a shot.”
It worked to perfection. The Mercury left a lane for January, who drove for a bucket that sent Indiana ahead by four.
The Fever needed it. The Mercury’s Leilani Mitchell, who scored 25 points and hit a Fever-opponent record of seven 3-pointers, buried a trey with 7.3 seconds remaining. Mitchell barely missed tying the game at the buzzer with a desperation try from nearly half-court.
For Indiana, Marissa Coleman, with 11 points, was the only player other than Catchings in double-digit scoring. Shavonte Zellous, who returned from Croatia on Thursday night, found enough energy to help the Fever with seven points, three rebounds and three steals in 26 ½ minutes.
“You can just tell with Shavonte on the floor that our team was in a much calmer place,” White said about the veteran guard who saw her first Fever action of 2015.
In the Fever locker room, players were happy and exhilarated to provide White with her first head-coaching victory. They, like their coach, especially liked how it happened.
“That’s going to be the identity of our team, just really clawing games out,” January said. “Everybody came together in this win, everybody played tough. We had lulls, but we came together and we fought back together.”