August 10, 2020 

Kelsey Mitchell found another level

What more Mitchell means for Indiana going forward

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Credit: Ned Dishman/Getty Images

The first time the Indiana Fever matched up against the Washington Mystics, they lost by 25.

Kelsey Mitchell made sure that didn’t happen again.

Marianne Stanley claimed her first win against a Washington team where she spent the previous 10 seasons as an assistant, with the Fever prevailing, 91-84.

Other than the wide margin of victory, the Fever reversed nearly all of the factors that plagued them against the Mystics on opening night. They outshot Washington 50% to 38%, outrebounded them by eight and withstood a 13-2 Mystics push in the fourth quarter to hang on and move to 3-4 on the season.

“When you play people multiple times, whether you win or lose, you learn something every time,” said Stanley after the game. “I like the fact that our players learned some valuable lessons from the first time we played them and then we made some adjustments, talked very specifically about how we were going to change, and they did exactly what we asked them to do.”

Mitchell scored a game-high 29 points on 8-for-13 shooting and 4-for-7 from three-point range. She increased her scoring average for the year to 20.7 points per game, ranked second in the WNBA only behind Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson.

“Tonight, I thought [Mitchell] was fantastic,” said Stanley. “She picked and chose her opportunities and that’s all part of the maturing process, but that kid’s got tremendous talent, she’s got a huge heart, and she’s been a joy to coach. That attitude and heart with talent… good things can happen.”

Mitchell, who averaged 13.6 points per game a season ago, has emerged as a clear leader for the Fever in her third year in the league. After the game, Mitchell went into detail about how difficult her first couple of professional seasons were for her personally, and how she’s since sought to identify her strengths and build upon them.

“The reality is, I needed to take a look in the mirror,” said Mitchell. “As long as my mental is good, I think it puts myself in a good position as well as my teammates to stay positive and weather storms, whether the storms include the good, bad or ugly. Obviously I try to shoot the ball at a high level, but that takes time and that takes a lot of consistency.”

Indiana held a players-only meeting on Saturday in which several team veterans — namely Tiffany Mitchell, Candice Dupree and Natalie Achonwa — addressed what plagued the Fever during its two-game losing skid going into Sunday’s contest. Indiana had dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season, falling to Los Angeles on Wednesday and Minnesota on Friday.

The meeting appeared to pay off the following day, as five players reached double-figure scoring against the Mystics.

“It kind of put everything on the table, as far as holding ourselves accountable, not letting the coach do that and just kind of taking more individual accountability,” said Tiffany Mitchell when asked about the takeaways from the meeting. “I think it just came together today, everyone did their jobs and their assignments so it’s just trying to stay consistent.”

Though Washington dropped to 3-4 with the loss, their current roster still includes contributors to last year’s championship team including Emma Meesseman and Myisha Hines-Allen. Beating a team such as the Mystics, says Kelsey Mitchell, was an emphatic step in the right direction for a growing Fever team.

“When it comes to Washington, you’ve got to be on your P’s and Q’s at all times, all 40 minutes,” she said. “We saw when they made those runs, they kind of messed with us a little bit. But I think playing a team like this is only going to help us in the future and I think this win is going to signify the fact that we belong, we can compete.”

The Fever look to secure a second consecutive win for the first time this season when they face the Las Vegas Aces on Tuesday at 7 p.m. EST.

Other Fever Notes

Tiffany Mitchell’s Loss

Tiffany Mitchell, the fifth-year guard averaging career highs in scoring (13 PPG) and assists (2.9 APG), took to Twitter on Saturday to announce the death of her father.

“It’s been a journey,” said Mitchell about experiencing a family tragedy in the WNBA bubble. “But having my teammates here, having people to talk to around me, I think is what’s best for me right now. I just applaud my teammates just knowing what kind of space I’m in. Basketball gives me peace, so just being able to go out there and play is making me happy, and bringing me sunshine during all this rain.”

Several WNBA players have had to deal with similarly devastating news while playing at IMG Academy, such as Seattle’s Epiphanny Prince and Connecticut’s Theresa Plaisance.

Players are faced with the difficult decision of whether to remain in Bradenton, Florida amid their family tragedies or travel home and — due to the league’s COVID-19 policies — quarantine upon return. Because of the abbreviated season, a departure combined with the additional time for mandated self-isolation may result in a player missing a significant amount of games.

Stephanie Mavunga

Stanley noted before Sunday’s game that Stephanie Mavunga, who left Friday’s game with what the team called a “facial injury,” suffered a fractured nose and will require surgery.

Stanley said that Mavunga will be out “for a bit,” while the team followed up with a statement that specified the timeline as “at least a week.”

Erica Wheeler

After the game against the Mystics, Marianne Stanley provided an update on the status of Erica Wheeler, the All-Star guard who has yet to join the team this year while going through the WNBA’s COVID-19 protocol.

“[WNBA Commissioner] Cathy Engelbert has said this, and we believe it… the most important thing is the health and wellbeing of our players. Erica tested positive, and she’s gotta go through the protocol to make sure it’s safe for her to compete and that’s all I care about — I know it’s going to happen. When it happens, I’m not sure. I think, I hope, that it’s later this week,” said Stanley. “Honest to goodness, I’m not going to jeopardize anybody’s health, and neither is anybody else in the Fever organization.”

Because of Wheeler’s absence, Stanley has had to play her current starting guards an abundance of minutes through the first seven games of the season. Kelsey Mitchell and Julie Allemand rank third and fifth in the league in minutes per game, respectively, at 34.3 and 32.3.

Written by Ben Rosof

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