NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - After a sluggish first half for both teams, Indiana picked up its play in the third quarter. When New York nearly got even early in the fourth, the Fever again ran away from the Liberty.
Tamika Catchings scored 22 points and Katie Douglas had 15 to lead Indiana to a 76-63 victory over New York on Thursday night. Shavonte Zellous added 11 points to help the Fever (16-8) win their fourth straight and sixth in seven games since the league's monthlong Olympic break.
``This was a game we needed to win,' Catchings said. ``We came out really focused and determined to do a good job. I don't think we started the game off the way that we should've and are capable of. The third quarter in the first couple of minutes, we got the rhythm getting up and down the court.'
The Fever remained 2 1/2 games behind first-place Connecticut in the Eastern Conference with 10 games remaining. Atlanta, which has eight left, is four games behind Indiana.
``My goal for this team is to continue to get better and not really focus where we stand in the playoff (race),' Catchings said. ``Just be concerned every single game with who we're playing. ... Coming back from the break into the second half we wanted to focus and get a sense of urgency and I feel we're starting to play with that. ... We have to continue to build off that.'
Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson had 18 points each, and Nicole Powell added 12 for New York (9-16), which lost its third straight and fifth of its last seven.
Trailing by 10 about midway through the third quarter, the Liberty used a 12-3 run over a 4:10 stretch, capped by 3-pointers from Powell and Carson to cut the deficit to 43-42 with 1:15 left in the third.
Zellous made a 3 for Indiana 26 seconds later to push the margin back to four, and the Fever took a 49-46 lead into the fourth. Pondexter and Carson sandwiched layups for New York around a jumper by Jessica Davenport to pull the Liberty to 51-50 with 9:10 remaining in the game.
However, Indiana scored the next 12 points to regain a double-digit lead. Catchings had two free throws, Douglas made a 3-pointer, Davenport had two layups and Jeanette Pohlen added a 3 to push the Fever's lead to 63-50 with 6:10 to go.
The Liberty made one more run, scoring five consecutive points, capped by a layup from Carson to cut the deficit to 65-58 about 2 1/2 minutes later. But that was as close as they got.
``We knew when we pulled ahead, they were still going to have a run left in them and they made that run,' Fever coach Lin Dunn said. ``When they decided to go to the 3-2 zone, I thought that really helped us. It slowed them down a little bit, it stopped some of Cappie's penetration. We got a couple of steals out of it and were able to get up by 10 and that was the difference in the ball game.'
Erin Phillips made a jumper and Douglas hit two free throws to extend Indiana's margin to 69-58 with 2:50 to go, and the Fever led by at least eight the rest of the way.
The Liberty finished with a 35-25 rebounding edge, but committed 21 turnovers - leading to 20 points for Indiana. New York also finished the night 2 for 3 on free throws while Indiana was 14 for 21.
``We turn the ball over 21 times, any team would capitalize off that and Indiana did,' Pondexter said. ``We were a step slow and it could be a number of reasons, coming off a nine-day round trip and one day to prepare. There has to be a sense of urgency at the beginning of the game not the fourth quarter.'
New York, which dropped a half-game behind Chicago for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East, lost three of five on its road swing and began a stretch of six straight and seven of the last 10 at home.
``We're going to keep plugging and we feel like we can make the playoffs,' Liberty coach John Whisenant said. ``If we can just correct some of our flaws, then that's what we're going to try and do.'
The Fever stretched a four-point halftime lead to 10 less than 4 minutes into the third quarter. Zellous had a layup and Catchings made two free throws in the opening minute of the period to push Indiana's advantage to 34-26. Zellous and Tammy Sutton-Brown had layups about 50 seconds apart to make it 40-30 with 6:19 to go.
Catchings scored nine points in the first half to help the Fever take a 30-26 lead at the break. Indiana shot 33 percent from the field (10 for 30), including 4 for 11 on 3s, and 6 for 10 on free throws.
Pondexter had 10 points for the Liberty, who shot 43 percent (12 for 28) but committed 11 turnovers.
The Associated Press News Service
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