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Sun play with a purpose and surprise Fever

Mohegan - Tamika Catchings was ticking off the reasons why her Indiana Fever lost to the Connecticut Sun Sunday, 76-71, when she hit on a key point.

"It was definitely a different team than we played a couple of days ago at home," said Catchings, referring to Indiana's 90-75 win over the Sun on July 13.

It was a game Indiana led by as much as 27 points late in the first half.

Asked to elaborate, Catchings said, "Their aggressiveness was probably the biggest thing. They came out definitely focused, driven to win this game."

It was about as nice a compliment as the Sun could get, given that Catchings is the WNBA's poster child for relentlessness.

Tina Charles had 18 points and 14 rebounds for Connecticut (8-5). Rookie Danielle McCray made six of eight 3-pointers and had a career and game-high 22 points and Renee Montgomery added 10 points and a game-high seven assists.

It was also the 168th win for Sun coach Mike Thibault, the second-most in WNBA history.

Sure, there were things that had the players, the coaches and 7,075 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena ready to throw down handfuls of Alka-Seltzer. Careless passes. Not moving the ball around enough on offense late in the game.

Effort can overcome a lot of problems, though, and Connecticut did enough to beat the Eastern Conference's best team.

"We were really aggressive," guard Kara Lawson said. "Defensively, I felt like we took them out of the things they wanted to do. Pushed them off their spots. And you have to do that with their team because they've got some great individual scorers. If you let them get to their spots, it can be a long night, like we experienced last week when we played them."

Indiana (10-5) still shot 42.6 percent against the Sun. It's nigh impossible to stop a team with Katie Douglas (12 points) on the wing and Catchings (18 points, 15 rebounds) ravenously attacking the basket.

The Fever had to work for everything they got, however. They missed 11 of 16 3-pointers (after making 11 of 17 in the previous game). They were hounded into two shot clock violations in less than a minute early in the second quarter.

It was that kind of work ethic that allowed the Sun to lead 42-32 at halftime.

"Tonight, like I said, they were just really focused," Catchings said. "You could tell. Just denying me. Cutting through the lane, getting bumped, getting hit. That's a part of being aggressive. That's a part of making an opponent work that just much harder.

"They did a really good job doing that tonight."

The effort wasn't limited to the defensive end, either. Connecticut got sloppy in the third quarter, and a running shot by the Fever's Shavonte Zellous cut their deficit to 58-57 early in the fourth quarter.

On the Sun's next possession, reserve Jessica Moore sprinted down the floor in transition ahead of the defense.

Montgomery threw the pass up ahead to her, and Moore, who was just passing the rim, leaned backwards and managed a left-handed layup as she went out-of-bounds.

Connecticut pushed the ball up on its next possession, and Lawson made a beautiful bounce pass into the lane to a cutting Kalana Greene for a layup and 62-57 edge with seven minutes, 35 seconds left.

n.griffen@theday.com

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