INDIANAPOLIS – The road back to the playoffs for the defending WNBA champion Indiana Fever hasn’t been easy.
The Fever fell behind early in the season and had to endure injuries to several players. Still, they managed to persevere to return to the postseason for a ninth straight year.
Tamika Catchings had 15 points, six rebounds and four steals to help the Fever beat the Connecticut Sun 69-60 Saturday night, clinching another playoff berth.
“When we came in (the locker room) it was just like a relief,” Catchings said. “I would like to see us going into the playoffs on a winning streak.”
Erlana Larkins had 12 points and Jessica Breland added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Fever (15-16), who have won three of four.
Kelsey Griffin had 14 points and seven rebounds and Tan White had 13 points for Sun (8-23), who lost for the eighth time in their last nine games.
Rene Montgomery tied the score at 44-all before Catchings made two free throws and a jumper to give the Fever a 48-44 lead.
The Fever went on an 8-2 run in the fourth to take a 58-48 lead when Breland hit a free throw with 6:16 left.
“Indiana had better focus in the fourth quarter,” Connecticut coach Anne Donovan said. “The fourth quarter, the backboard hurt us. (And) both teams were on back-to-back games.”
Indiana was coming off a win at Chicago and Connecticut beat Washington at home on Friday.
After winning the season opener, the Fever lost seven straight. Indiana has had a .500 record just three times. The single win at the start of the year was the only time Indiana had a winning record.
And the Fever have dealt with injuries from the start.
“I’ve never had this many injuries,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. “But I’ve been in situations where injuries were huge. We’ve dealt with tough situations before and we know you fight through it.”
Indiana has had seven different starting lineups this year and Larkins is the only player to start every game. Seven of Indiana’s top scorers from the 2012 championship team have missed games, including forward Katie Douglas who has played in only two games because of a back injury.
Nine different Indiana players have combined to miss a total of 107 1/2 games. To help, the Fever signed three different replacement players this season, including Jasmine Hassell, who the Fever drafted in the second round this year, waived, and resigned three times. Breland was also signed and came through for Indiana on Saturday.
Breland put the game out of reach when she was fouled on a shot and scored a free throw to give Indiana 65-54 lead with 3:12 left.
“For us, we’ve talked about from the beginning of the season to now, and just how valuable (the bench) is to our team,” Catchings said. “Having the minutes they’ve had throughout the season brings us to this point where they’re confident enough to go in there and to make things happen.”
Indiana has three regular season games left before the start of the playoffs, including one more matchup at Connecticut on Sept. 15.