By Daniel McFadin
Indianapolis — 9/10/13
Championship defending seasons aren’t supposed to begin with a 1 – 7 record, but this one did for the Indiana Fever, who bounced back and are now 15 – 17 on the year after a 69 – 67 loss to the Washington Mystic Tuesday night.
The Fever returned to Bankers Life Fieldhouse coming off a victory over the Connecticut Sun to clinch a spot in the upcoming playoffs, despite an underwhelming season due in part to injuries.
It has been a season of stepping up for the Fever, especially for center Erlana Larkins. The defending WNBA champions have swallowed the injury bug hard, having eight players miss a combined 107.5 games over the course of the season for an average of 3.48 players out per game.
Tuesday night’s game against the Mystic (15-17) was the fifth time this season the Fever only had eight players to work with, compared to the Mystic’s 10 players.
But through all of pain one player has remained healthy, being a reliable and nearly-record breaking presence on the boards for the Fever all season. The third-year center out of North Carolina, hasn’t been on the injury list all season and is the only Fever player who has started all 30 games.
Larkins’ reliable presence on the court is impressive considering the center failed to make any WNBA team during the 2010 and 2011 seasons after spending her first two years out of UNC with the New York Liberty before joining the Fever for their championship run last year.
Larkins entered the game having earned double-doubles in two of the Fever’s last three games at Chicago and Atlanta while averaging eight points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.39 steals. Even with her reliabilty Tuesday night’s game would not be microcosm of the center’s season to date.
The 6-foot-1-inch center started the game guarding her Mystic counterpart in center Crystal Langhorne. The 6-foot-2-inch Maryland alumni out played Larkins through the first timeout at 4:10 left in the first quarter putting up two points and grabbing five rebounds to Larkins one defensive rebound.
By the end of the quarter, Larkins had improved by just one rebound and assist, as Karima Catchings carried the Fever with eight of their 16 points while the Mystic led 19 – 16.
Larkins was the only Indiana player on the court for the entire first quarter and rested on the bench until the 6:01 mark in the second, returning to get her third rebound which led to a Briann January basket to improve their first lead of the game to 31 -28. By the halftime buzzer the former Tar Heel had tripled her board action by grabbing four to take her total to six.
Larkins sat halfway through the third quarter after earning her only point on a free-throw attempt and earning one more rebound. She returned halfway through the final period and quickly grabbed her eighth rebound to surpass her team leading average of 7.7 boards and finished with nine, three offensive and six defensive.
Larkins finished the game 0 – 4 from the field with nine rebounds, two steals, one assist and one blocked shot in a team high 33:52 minutes of play.