Indianapolis – The Indiana Fever extinguished the league-leading Los Angeles Sparks 92-82 on Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a game where Indiana never trailed. A ferocious defensive effort and a 55.9 percent shooting night gave the Fever their fourth win in five games as they handed the Sparks their second-consecutive loss and just their third loss of the entire season.
“We established ourselves on the defensive end of the floor,” Fever head coach Stephanie White said. “We had a little bit of a lull in the third quarter but we bounced back. I’m really proud of how we played. It was probably our most complete game of the year.”
An explosive first half from Tamika Catchings put Indiana in control coming down the stretch. A pair of back-to-back threes from Marissa Coleman and Briann January ignited the crowd in a tight fourth quarter before a series of hustle plays from Erica Wheeler helped Indiana lock down the win with a 17-7 run. Wheeler scored eight of her 14 points in the fourth quarter, including six in the final minutes to put L.A. in the rearview mirror.
“Coach said in that timeout that we needed to keep being aggressive and have more energy,” Wheeler said. “My main focus was just attacking on defense and being aware. Just staying in attack mode.”
Catchings’ offensive showcase included a game-high 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting and 3-for-4 from deep. She also swiped four steals in her final game in Indianapolis before heading to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.
Lynetta Kizer scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting in her fifth-straight double-digit scoring effort; the longest stretch of her career. January added 12 points and nine assists on 4-of-5 from the floor, including a boost of energy in the crucial fourth-quarter run. A determined Shenise Johnson–who was held scoreless against L.A. on July 6–netted 12 points in 17 minutes off the bench.
Kristi Toliver led Los Angeles with 18 points on 6-for-9 from the floor, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range. Nneka Ogwumike finished the night with 16 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in her 12th double-double of the season. Candace Parker added 15 points while Jantel Lavender was the fourth Sparks’ player in double figures with 12.
Indiana came out with suffocating defense as they forced five turnovers in the first quarter and 20 in the game. Catchings opened with a 3-pointer to start the contest and the Fever led for the remaining 39 minutes and change.
Catchings would turn in a dominating first-half performance with 16 points, including a perfect 3-for-3 from the 3-point line. Wheeler’s first six points came in the final minutes of the second quarter to help Indiana hit the locker room with a 49-40 advantage.
The Sparks cut the lead as narrow as 59-56 late in the third quarter with Parker on the bench. It was the closest L.A. had come since the first quarter.
Indiana clung to a slight advantage until 6:10 to play in the fourth quarter. Leading 73-65, a 3-pointer from Marissa Coleman rejuvenated the crowd before the January trifecta the next trip down. With a near double-digit advantage, the Fever and Sparks traded baskets until the Wheeler hustle plays gave Indiana its largest lead of the game, 86-70, and sealed the win.
The Fever were outrebounded 30-19 on the glass Tuesday but won the turnover battle with a +10 advantage, forcing 20 turnovers and committing just nine. Indiana was 19-for-20 (95 percent) from the free-throw line as they continue to be the league’s best free-throw shooting team.
The Fever improved to 11-12 on the season while dropping L.A. to 20-3 with their second-consecutive loss. The Fever have now won four of their last five games with one game remaining before the Olympic break – an 11:00 a.m. meeting with New York on Thursday, July 21.