Washington Mystics Must Decide Who to Stop on Indiana Team Full of Offensive Threats

Washington's Lindsey Harding attempts to get a shot off over Tammy Sutton-Brown and Tamika Catchings, far right. Harding has played well against whoever she defends, but other players have stepped up for Indiana.
Washington's Lindsey Harding attempts to get a shot off over Tammy Sutton-Brown and Tamika Catchings, far right. Harding has played well against whoever she defends, but other players have stepped up for Indiana. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 19, 2009

As Mystics point guard Lindsey Harding prepared to check back into Thursday's game, Coach Julie Plank told her to take over guarding Indiana Fever sharpshooter Katie Douglas.

It wasn't a bad matchup, but it forced Harding to make a series of devil's bargains during Game 1 of the WNBA's Eastern Conference semifinal.

Harding's speed and tenacity held the all-star shooting guard to just eight second-half points, but as the Fever surged back to seize control of the game, Harding found she could effectively defend Douglas only if she didn't try to help her teammates guard other Indiana scoring threats.

That resulted in ample space for Briann January, the Fever's rookie point guard, to drive the basket. January scored 16 points in the second half as the catalyst for Indiana's comeback win. If the Mystics hope to extend their season beyond tonight's Game 2 at 7 p.m. in Indianapolis, they must find a way to limit each of the Fever's offensive weapons.

"I can't help [defend other players] off of Katie and that's a big thing," Harding said. "I have a decision to make. Do I go and help and leave that shooter? Or do I not? Part of it is we've got to contain them. We've got to keep [January] in front and make her shoot tough shots over us, as well as Katie" and Tamika Catchings.

Attempting to limit one of Indiana's scorers simply gives another room to thrive. Five Fever players -- Douglas and January, forwards Catchings and Ebony Hoffman and center Tammy Sutton-Brown -- have recorded at least 15 points in at least one of the five matchups with Washington this season.

Indiana has had no less than four players score in double figures in every game against the Mystics, as well.

"We match up so well from position to position," Catchings said when asked about her continued success against Washington. "Everybody takes it as a challenge when you play a team that's so much like yours. You feed off that energy."

That bottled-up intensity often shows in Catchings more than any other player. Against the Mystics this season she has averaged 21.6 points, nine rebounds and has made 33 of 38 free throw attempts. But if there's anyone that knows how it is to contain the Fever's MVP candidate, it's Washington's all-star guard Alana Beard, who played with Catchings in Poland.

"She's a ball of energy. She's the type of player that she's going to keep going. You're not going to stop her. You may think you have her stopped the first time, she'll take the shot and miss, but she's going to get that rebound and she's going to get that steal. She's never out of the play."

Because there have been only three games in 2009 in which Catchings has been held to single digits, Washington isn't naive enough to presume it can completely suppress her offensive abilities. But the Mystics can do more to temper it.

Even if one assumes that the Fever's two stars -- Catchings and Douglas -- will get their points, the Mystics must still find ways to prohibit Indiana's supporting cast. Washington was able to do just that in the first half of Game 1, as no other Fever player had more than five points. But then they adjusted.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company