Indiana Fever: 3 positives and 3 areas of concern after losing at Connecticut

Indiana Fever guard Erica Wheeler tries to penetrate during a preseason game vs. the Chicago Sky on May 16, 2019. Photo by Kimberly Geswein
Indiana Fever guard Erica Wheeler tries to penetrate during a preseason game vs. the Chicago Sky on May 16, 2019. Photo by Kimberly Geswein /

The Fever have now lost six straight games at Connecticut

Erica Wheeler had a game-high 26 points and 9 assists, but it wasn’t enough as the Fever lost 88-77 at Connecticut on Tuesday night.

Candice Dupree added 20 points.  Wheeler and Dupree combined to hit 21-28 (75%) of their shots.  The rest of the team shot just 14-44 (31%).

The Fever had no answer for Jonquel Jones, who got whatever she wanted in the paint and on the perimeter.  The 6’6 center grabbed eight rebounds and made 4 of 7 three-pointers.  The Sun made five consecutive threes during a 19-9 third-quarter run that put them up 59-46 with 2:31 left in the quarter.

“I saw some positive things,” Fever head coach Pokey Chatman told reporters after the game.  “We executed out of our half-court offense and we got points in transition.  But Connecticut punished us with their half-court game.”

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Despite the loss, there were some things that Fever fans should feel good about as the team prepares to play its home opener vs. New York on Saturday.

Erica Wheeler has been a scoring machine in the Fever’s first two games

Last year, Wheeler had a season-high 15 points during a game at Atlanta.

She has scored more than that in each of her first two games in 2019.

After Connecticut built its 13-point lead, Wheeler hit several big shots to help the Fever trim the Sun’s lead to six in the fourth quarter.  She was one assist shy of recording the Fever’s first points-assists double-double since 2011.

Wheeler scored 16 points in the Fever’s opening-night victory at New York.

Last year, Wheeler averaged 7.8 points per game.  She shot 35.1% from the field and made 27.6% of her three-point attempts.  In her first two games this season, she is shooting 66.7% and has hit 54.1% of her threes.  She’s also averaging seven assists per game.

Chatman said, “Wheeler is kind of what the game is becoming — that point guard that can score, but she also had nine assists tonight.”

Wheeler is one of only 13 players in the WNBA who were undrafted coming out of college.

Stephanie Mavunga provided solid minutes off the bench

Forward/center Natalie Achonwa picked up her third foul early in the second quarter and was plagued with foul trouble the rest of the night.  With rookie center Teaira McCowan having difficulty guarding Jones on the perimeter, the Fever’s only other player who’s taller than 6’2 stepped up admirably.  Mavunga, a 6’3 forward who was the 14th pick in the 2018 draft, was one of two Fever players who finished with a positive number in the plus/minus category (+3).  Mavunga finished with two points and three rebounds in 17 minutes of action.  During training camp, Chatman praised Mavunga for how much she improved during her offseason playing in Russia.  When McCowan and/or Achonwa get in foul trouble this year,  Chatman appears confident that Mavunga can fill in for them.

Indiana fought back in the final quarter

As they did during their victory over Washington on Saturday, it looked like the Sun were going to turn the game into a blowout when they went ahead, 59-46, in the third quarter.  The Fever refused to let that happen.  Wheeler and Dupree hit some big shots and the team got some stops on the defensive end to trim the lead to 70-64 with 6:39 to play in the game.

However, the Fever couldn’t get any closer.  Here are a few reasons why.

The Fever couldn’t grab a defensive rebound when they needed it

Sun coach Curt Miller called a timeout after the Fever trimmed the lead to six.  On their ensuing possession, the Sun grabbed four offensive rebounds before Courtney Williams hit a jumper to push Connecticut’s lead back up to eight with 5:52 to play.  The Fever could have made things interesting if they could have rebounded just one of those missed shots, but giving up four offensive rebounds in that situation destroyed their momentum.  Connecticut grabbed 12 offensive rebounds for the game and had an overall edge of 37-26 on the boards.

McCowan only played nine minutes

McCowan didn’t play in the fourth quarter, a time when the Fever could have used her rebounding.  She struggled to defend Jones on the perimeter during the third quarter.  McCowan certainly isn’t the only WNBA player who’s struggled to defend Jones, but it appeared as though Chatman felt more comfortable with a smaller, but quicker, post player like Mavunga in the game.  McCowan finished with zero points, three rebounds, and a block.

Besides Wheeler, only one other Fever player made a three-point shot

Wheeler hit 4 of 6 three-pointers.  The rest of the team was 1-for-10 from behind the arc, with guard Betnijah Laney hitting a three early in the first quarter.  Laney missed her other four attempts from three.  Kelsey Mitchell was 0-3 on her three-point attempts.  It was another brutal reminder of how much the Fever are going to miss sharpshooter Victoria Vivians this year unless someone besides Wheeler can step up and hit shots from deep.

The Fever return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for a four-game homestand, beginning Saturday, June 1, against the Liberty at 7:00 ET.  The Fever will be celebrating the franchise’s 20th season.  The first game in Fever history was played on June 1, 2000.

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