INDIANAPOLIS — Victoria Vivians went to Washington D.C. during the Indiana Fever’s six-day break between games. Kelsey Mitchell was in Chattanooga, Tenn. NaLyssa Smith wasn’t an all-star but was in Chicago for the WNBA skills challenge.
Interim coach Carlos Knox, who went to Chicago to support Smith, said before the game his team looked fresh in practice and the break was much needed entering the final 12 games of the season.
Indiana even trotted out a different starting lineup than usual Wednesday, with Tiffany Mitchell taking Danielle Robinson’s spot in the backcourt.
The result were the same as its been throughout the Fever’s now-seven-game losing streak: an uncompetitive loss — this one 89-81 to Connecticut. The Fever trailed by double digits throughout almost the entire game and made the final score respectable by outscoring the Sun 35-24 in the fourth quarter.
“It’s still a mystery,” Knox said. “We’re trying to implement that style, that pace, that feel in the beginning of the game so that we can just consistently do it, and for some reason we came out and we didn’t have that today.”
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For the second game in a row, Indiana (5-20) had trouble with its opponent’s size. Queen Egbo was back after a bout with COVID-19 — she played 23 minutes, the fewest of any starter as Knox eased her back into the lineup — but still two inches shorter than 6-6 Connecticut center Jonquel Jones, who scored 20 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked four shots.
Defensively, the Sun’s length was in the Fever’s passing lanes, breaking up opportunities in transition. The Fever committed nine turnovers, but even if the deflections didn’t result in a loss of possession, it often forced Indiana out of its rhythm in the half court.
“They played very physical, and our young ladies are still learning the physicality of the game,” Knox said. “So we have to make sure that we can continue to preach that, continue to talk about that and just get them a good feel for it because obviously if you don’t, there’s a lot of games left.”
And again, it took the Fever over a half to adjust to its opponent. In its past two games, Indiana has been outscored 142-111 in the first three quarters while winning fourth quarters 62-40.
There are several reasons for that, one of them being that players not in their opponents’ usual rotation have been seeing the floor in garbage time, but the difference still points to what has been one of Knox’s main talking points throughout the season: The Fever have rarely been able to string 40 minutes of good basketball together.
Against the Sun (15-8), Kelsey Mitchell exemplified that gap. The Fever’s leading scorer ended the first half with 5 points on 1-of-5 shooting. She found her 3-point stroke and adjusted to how Connecticut was playing her in the second half to finish with 21 points.
“Teams like Connecticut try to muck it up and make it aggressive for you, especially with people that are ballhandlers, shooters, aggressive players,” she said. “So for me it was all about being as patient as I possibly can, picking my spots when I saw them.”