August 12, 2020 

Indiana Fever’s search for consistency lives on

Team falls to 0-3 this year in games following wins

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PALMETTO, FL- JULY 29: Candice Dupree #4 of the Indiana Fever plays defense against the Phoenix Mercury on July 29, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

After a shootout-style first half in which the Indiana Fever scored 59 points and allowed 60, they couldn’t keep up in the second, posting just seven fourth quarter points en route to a 98-79 loss to the Las Vegas Aces on Tuesday.

Here’s what we learned from the setback that dropped the Fever to 3-5.

Fever continue to lack consistency

On several occasions so far this season, the Fever have looked unstoppable. They scored 106 points against the Mercury on July 29, outscored the defending champion Washington Mystics 27-11 in the second quarter of Sunday’s win, and have received several exceptional performances from third-year guard Kelsey Mitchell.

But at other times, the Fever look sluggish and fatigued from the grind of playing 22 games in a condensed season. Indiana has yet to win consecutive games, having alternated victories and losses with the exception of last week’s two-game slide.

Coach Marianne Stanley insists that fatigue isn’t contributing to her team’s inconsistency, but the players can’t seem to figure out the reasons behind their inability to string together complete games.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” said Candice Dupree, who scored a team-high 20 points against the Aces. “For some reason, we self destruct and this isn’t the first game that we’ve done it. I don’t know if we get tired. I didn’t feel like they upped their defensive pressure, but we just go away from what works for us in the first half and we have to stop doing that.”

The Fever could not sustain a first half in which they shot 61% from the field and Dupree and Teaira McCowan combined for 25 points. The 119 total points by both teams at the midway point represented the highest scoring half of any WNBA game this season.

But while the Fever limited the Aces to just 38 second half points, they scored just 20 of their own.

“Our team, in the third quarter, got away from some of the things that worked for us in the first half,” Stanley said. “We kind of got away from what we like to do. I don’t know if that was a mental fatigue or a physical fatigue, but I think we are our own worst enemy on offense at times and that contributed to some of the problems that we were having.”

After Tiffany Mitchell converted on two straight blow-bys to the basket to cut the Las Vegas lead to eight with 8:41 remaining, the Aces promptly responded with a 10-0 push to effectively end the Fever’s chances of a comeback.

“Basketball’s a game of runs, we’ve got to find a way to stop the bleeding and still do what we’re capable of doing,” Dupree said.

Indiana burned by a balanced Vegas attack

Tuesday’s game was set up to feature a showdown between the league’s top two scorers — Las Vegas’s reigning Western Conference Player of the Week A’ja Wilson, and the Fever’s Kelsey Mitchell. Wilson was coming off a 31-point performance against New York on Sunday, while Mitchell dropped 29 her last time out against the Mystics.

Marianne Stanley stressed before the game, however, that the Fever would be foolish to only focus their defensive attention on Wilson. She specifically cited Kayla McBride, Angel McCoughtry, Sugar Rodgers and Danielle Robinson as players that can go off on any given night.

“By no means is this a one-player team.”

She was right.

Wilson struggled against the Fever, finishing with just 12 points on 5-for-17 shooting from the field. She consistently failed to draw fouls or get to the free-throw line — something she did 12 times on Sunday — against Indiana’s lengthy interior of Teaira McCowan and Lauren Cox.

But it was the other players that Stanley noted — or perhaps foreshadowed — that stood out on Tuesday, as the group of four combined to score 52 points. Dearica Hamby added another 17 off the bench. The Aces proved why they’re championship contenders in 2020, as six total players reached double-figure scoring.

“Once they get going and kind of get in a rhythm, yeah, they are difficult to stop. They got a lot of talent, it’s not just one or two players,” Stanley said after the game.

Fever have secured a post trio for the future

Tuesday’s game marked the first time that the Fever were able to dress and play their three centers in Teaira McCowan, Natalie Achonwa and Lauren Cox. Achonwa missed four games with a right hamstring injury while Cox missed the start of the season while recovering from COVID-19 symptoms.

“We feel like we have a good complement of post people,” said Stanley. “It’s unfortunate that Nat’s banged up right now, she gave us the effort that she could give but she’s far from 100% and the other two are very young. We’re just going to keep getting better, keep developing them and move forward.”

Playing in her fourth game of the year, Lauren Cox performed admirably in 12 minutes off the bench and turned in an early-career high of seven points. She was able to beat A’ja Wilson to the basket for layups and even showed off her range, confidently knocking down a three-pointer from the top of the key. Defensively, Cox’s size was able to disrupt Wilson’s efficiency and force tightly contested shot attempts.

“I think my length was able to bother [Wilson], I use that to my advantage,” said Cox. “I think a lot of people don’t think I’m as long as I am, and then I’m able to alter shots.”

With Cox being a rookie, McCowan in her second year and Achonwa playing in her sixth season, the Fever have pieced together a solid young corps at the center position. Though Stanley is clearly still determining which combinations perform the best on the court together, there’s certainly no shortage of talent for Indiana in the paint.

The Fever have a chance to get back on track against the struggling New York Liberty when the teams match up on Thursday at 6 p.m. EST.

Written by Ben Rosof

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