Women's Watch: Indiana Fever the real story of this WNBA season

 
 
Updated 10/2/2015 7:43 PM
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One of the best stories to come out of the WNBA this season is the Indiana Fever.

Even with an aging star, a new head coach and injuries to key players, the Fever managed to put together a decent enough season to get to the WNBA Finals, which begin on Sunday (2 p.m., ABC 7). The Fever will play the Minnesota Lynx in a best-of-five series.

Former Stevenson High School star Tamika Catchings is the leader of the Fever. Now in her 14th WNBA season, Catchings is going for just her second league title.

She's a sentimental favorite for many, not just because she has often been the bridesmaid instead of the bride, or because she has battled many injuries over her career or because she plays the game as hard as anyone and is a revered defensive gem. She is also one of the most quality professional athletes on a personal level that you'll meet.

She's well-liked by peers and gives so much of herself to the Indianapolis community through her long-running Catch the Stars Foundation, which works with kids.

It's good to see "Catch" in the position to be atop the league again. So very deserving.

And the timing couldn't be better.

Catchings, who led Stevenson to an IHSA state championship in 1995, has announced that next season will be her last in the WNBA. She is engaged and ready to marry, have children and move on with her life.

She reflected on that when she was in Chicago last month while leading the Fever to a first-round win over the Sky.

"Every time I go out, after this year, it becomes the last of everything," Catchings said. "This is the last off-season, it will be the last first game.

"Really, this is just the opportunity to go out and enjoy my team. I love my teammates. They're a great group of ladies and I'm savoring the moments."

Catchings has certainly been saving some of her best moments for the playoffs.

She struggled at times during the regular season and produced the lowest scoring average of her career, 13.1 points per game. But during the playoffs, that average has climbed to 19.7 points per game.

Against the Sky in the series-deciding Game 3 on Sept. 21, Catching put the Fever on her back and scored a team-high 27 points. She also grabbed 9 rebounds and dished out 6 assists. It was a typical Catchings game, coming when the lights are the brightest.

"I can't say enough about the warrior mentality of our leader, Tamika Catchings," said first-year Indiana coach Stephanie White, who might have won the WNBA's coach of the year award (instead of New York's Bill Laimbeer) had the voting been conducted a tad later. White is only the third WNBA coach in WNBA history to record at least 20 wins in his or her first season.

"We have a once-in-a-lifetime player in Tamika," White said. "She's willed our team, and has always willed our teams to do things that many don't think our teams are capable of doing."

It's fair to say that the Fever was probably written off several times this season. The team's lineup was often in flux, mostly due to injury.

Catchings missed some time at the beginning of the season due to a knee injury. Starting point guard Briann January missed five games with back and knee problems. Starting guard Shenise Johnson missed three games with an ankle sprain. Starting forward Erlana Larkins, who destroyed the Sky in the playoffs, missed 13 games with knee and leg injuries. Guard Shavonte Zellous missed eight games with a sore back and three games because she was with the Croatian national team. Starting forward Natalie Achonwa missed 6 games due to her commitment to the Canadian national team.

Meanwhile, reserve guard Layshia Clarendon missed five games, four because of a concussion. Reserve forward Natasha Howard missed four games with a hand injury, reserve guard Maggie Lucas missed three games with a hip injury. Reserve guard Jeanette Pohlen missed two games with a calf strain.

"We've had to do it by committee," White said. "Our team has stepped up all season long.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com. Follow Patricia on Twitter @babcockmcgraw.

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