Fever struggle defensively in 101-76 loss against Mystics

Marianne Stanley falls to former team in first game as Indiana Head Coach

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The Indiana Fever’s Candice Dupree boxes out against the Washington Mystics’ Emma Meesseman on July 25, 2020. (Photo via fever.wnba.com)

In their first game of the 2020 WNBA season in Bradenton, Florida, the Indiana Fever fell flat against the shorthanded Washington Mystics on Saturday, losing 101-76. Kelsey Mitchell scored a team-high 25 points for the Fever but it wasn't enough, as the Mystics built a 27 point lead by halftime and stretched it to as much as 37 in the third quarter.

Indiana allowed Washington to score 92 points and shoot 72% from the field through the first 30 minutes. The Fever struggled mightily to contain the Mystics inside, allowing 48 points in the paint.

“Defensively, we weren’t very good in the second quarter and really began to have trouble defending in the post,” said Indiana Head Coach Marianne Stanley. “This is a game that we’re not satisfied with our performance for 40 minutes. New coaching staff, new team, I’m not going to offer excuses for anything. We need to be better and we will be better.”

Stanley coached her first game at the helm of the Fever since working for 10 seasons as an assistant with the Mystics, a tenure that culminated with a 2019 title. Though she acknowledged the strong familiarity that she maintains with her former team, she described the process of approaching the matchup as just another game.

“We talked to our team just about coming out and playing hard, and you go into this game trying to treat it like any other game but knowing that, look, they’re the defending champions,” Stanley said. “Until somebody knocks em’ off, they’re it, and you see how you stack up.”

Third-year Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen gave Indiana fits all game long, pouring in a career-high 27 points — 22 in the first half — on 11-for-17 shooting. Not only did Hines-Allen connect on three three-pointers, but she repeatedly scored in transition and on post-ups against taller defenders such as Candice Dupree and Natalie Achonwa.

“[Hines-Allen] was getting the rebounds, going coast to coast, she knocked down some threes for them early on, being aggressive, just putting the ball on floor, getting to the basket, post-up,” said Dupree. “We’ve got to do a better job of limiting that. She’s definitely developed her game in the offseason, so kudos to her, but like I said, we’ve gotta do better.”

Stanley coached Hines-Allen for two seasons in Washington. Though the Louisville product averaged just over nine minutes and three points per game during her first two years in the league, Stanley said she wasn’t surprised by Hines-Allen’s impactful performance.

“I told our assistant coaches yesterday and today, and as we prepared, that I just felt like Hines-Allen was going to have a breakout, I think this is going to be a breakout season for her,” Stanley said. “She just needed an opportunity to play, and it’s tough when you’re sitting behind Elena Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman, LaToya Sanders, it’s hard to carve out minutes. But she has worked hard, and she’s skilled and talented, and we saw that tonight.”

The Fever entered Saturday’s season opener without having scrimmaged against any other teams during training camp, unlike their WNBA counterparts that were allowed to do so beginning last week. Indiana arrived late to the “wubble” at IMG Academy after two players tested positive for COVID-19. The team was also missing Erica Wheeler, Lauren Cox and Kathleen Doyle against the Mystics due to injuries and COVID-19 symptoms.

“That made our guard rotation a lot shorter… we just didn’t have the depth that we normally have,” Stanley admitted. “Not having the extra bodies in our rotation hurt.”

In place of Wheeler, an all-star that started all 34 games for Indiana last season, Stanley tabbed Belgian rookie Julie Allemand to fill the void at point guard. Allemand turned in a solid performance, connecting on all three field goal attempts and dishing three assists against two turnovers.

But it was Kelsey Mitchell, the third-year guard, that stood out on an otherwise disheartening night for the Fever. In addition to recording three assists, Mitchell converted on five of her seven three-point attempts and, at times, took control of the point guard position herself. After rotating in-and-out of the starting lineup throughout her first two years in the league, last year’s leading scorer is poised to cement a long-term position in the opening five.

“I try to make sure that I’m holding myself accountable so we can all kind of be on the same page. My mentality this year is, in the most respectable way, take no prisoners, play confidently and use my team to do that,” said Mitchell.

One player that was notably absent from Indiana’s lineup for a majority of the game was the 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan, who played just 13 minutes and scored just one point on 0-for-4 shooting from the field. Stanley said that the second-year center’s limited action resulted from the difficult matchups against the Mystics post players — particularly Emma Meesseman and Alaina Coates — and clarified that McCowan will see more minutes going forward. McCowan averaged 10 points per game on 52% shooting from the field in 2019.

Against Indiana, Washington featured only one starter from last year’s championship roster due to medical absences and players leaving for other teams. Despite not having to face the likes of Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud and Kristi Toliver, who left in the offseason to return to the Sparks, Stanley emphasized that she wasn’t anticipating any sort of drop-off in her former team’s quality of play.

“I knew that they would come prepared,” Stanley said. “I’ve worked with all of their players and understand the quality of the team. Everybody has lauded them for their accomplishments… but when people maybe don’t know is that the backups, like Myisha Hines-Allen, like Aerial Powers, don’t get the recognition for just how talented they truly are. When you can put that kind of talent in practice on a daily basis going against each other, it just elevates everybody.”

For a team that repeatedly mentioned the need to get better as a takeaway from Saturday’s setback, the Fever will have the opportunity to accomplish just that on Wednesday against the Phoenix Mercury. Both teams will begin the contest 0-1, as the Mercury fell to the Sparks earlier on Saturday.