By KAREEM COPELAND
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Tamika Catchings scored 18 points and the defending champion Indiana Fever pulled away in the fourth quarter and beat the Seattle Storm 71-63 on Sunday night.
Shavonte Zellous had 14 points, Karima Christmas scored 12 and Jessica Breland added career-highs of 10 points and 10 rebounds to help the Fever (3-7) win their second straight.
“That was a great team win. A great effort,” Catchings said. “I think everybody did a really good job stepping up tonight. Our defense was definitely better in the second half. We did a much better job taking care of the ball and executing offensively.”
Zellous’ 3-pointer with less than a second left in the third quarter tied the score at 50-all. Indiana then opened the fourth with a 10-2 run to take an eight-point lead with 6:43 remaining. Seattle got no closer than four the rest of the way. Breland and Zellous had four points each during the spurt as Seattle shot 0 for 3 from the field with a turnover during its dry spell.
Indiana’s Briann January was hit in the head in the first quarter and left the game. She played the entire second quarter, but was evaluated by doctors at halftime and did not return due to a concussion. January is the seventh player to miss time for the Fever. Six of the team’s top seven scorers from 2012 have missed stretches due to injury.
“I’ve never experienced a season with so many injuries,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said. “I’ve also never experienced a season where so many other people decided to step up.
“What we’re trying to prove is that we’re not through. Just because we’re hurt doesn’t mean we’re through playing.”
With January out, Dunn moved Catchings from power forward to point guard and everyone else adjusted.
“I told (Briann) don’t ever leave me out there like that again,” Catchings said. “You have a newfound respect for point guards when you have to play it. … You’re the quarterback of the whole thing and you get tired fast.”
The Fever were a franchise-best 18 for 18 on free throws.
Shekinna Stricklen scored 11 points for the Storm (4-6) while Tina Thompson added nine in her final regular-season trip to Indianapolis. Seattle has lost three in a row.
“Overall we hustled pretty well and moved the ball,” Stricklen said. “We got killed on second chance points. They out rebounded us. We got good shots, they just didn’t fall.”
The Fever picked up their defense in the final period and limited the Storm to 36.4 percent shooting from the field. Indiana won the rebounding contest 34-22, including 12 on the offensive end.
“Indiana hurt us on the offensive boards,” Storm coach Brian Agler said. “The offensive boards hurt us and 20 turnovers.”
The Fever sprinted out to a 17-4 lead in the first quarter thanks to a pair of 3-pointers and a four-point play by January. The Storm then answered with a 10-0 run after January was hit in the head and left the game at the 4:18 mark of the first quarter.
“It’s nothing really new to us anymore,” Breland said. “We can sit around and cry about it, but that’s not going to help. … We’re learning how to overcome stuff like that.”
Seattle grabbed its first lead in a physical game with 2:09 left in the second quarter, but neither team pulled away until Indiana in the fourth.
Fever rookie Layshia Clarendon returned from a two-game absence due to a left hip contusion, but doctors limited her minutes.
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