Four years ago, when Tully Bevilaqua joined the Indiana Fever, she was a 33-year-old point guard looking to write the final chapter in a circuitous career that included stops in Cleveland, Portland and Seattle, where she won a title in 2004. The Fever brought in the Aussie playmaker with the understanding that she'd eventually move to the bench once her successor had been groomed. But by the end of last season the team still had no point guard of the future, and their point guard of the present was seriously contemplating retirement.
Now the league's third oldest player at 37, Bevilaqua was persuaded to come back for another season just to back up and mentor the rookie point guard Indiana expected to take with the sixth pick the draft. Besides, second-year coach Lin Dunn told her, "you have the rest of your life to be retired."
The Fever did select a point guard, Arizona State's Briann January, and gave her the starting job. But when Indiana began the season with two losses, Dunn hastily reinstated Bevilaqua—and ever since then Indiana has been on a tear. The Fever ticked off 11 consecutive wins and at this weekend's All-Star break had a league-best 12--4 record.
Bevilaqua's stats are relatively modest—she's averaging a career high in points (7.4 per game) and is flirting with personal bests in assists (3.0) and rebounds (2.6)—but her steady play at the point has allowed her teammates to shine. Sixth-year forward Ebony Hoffman, the league's Most Improved Player last year, continues to make strides as a perimeter shooter. Two seasons ago she attempted just five three-pointers; this year she's on pace to take 72, and she's making them at a 50.0% clip. Forward Tamika Catchings, who tore her right Achilles tendon during the 2007 playoffs, has finally recovered fully from the injury, which cost her nine games and invaluable practice time last season. She started alongside Fever teammate Katie Douglas for the East in Saturday's All-Star Game, which the West won 130--118.
One reason for Bevilaqua's effectiveness has been her improved three-point shooting, a skill she concentrated on in the off-season. "Teams were backing off me and playing us 4 on 5," says Bevilaqua, who is on pace to hoist up 119 treys this season, 30 more than she took each of the last two seasons. She's also making them at a career-best 42.9%.
The real test will be whether Bevilaqua can keep knocking them down as Indiana begins August with a grueling stretch in which it plays six of eight games on the road. Can the Fever keep up its sizzling run? "Honestly," says Catchings, "I don't feel like we've peaked. You see it in spurts, but as far as a consistent, 40-minute game, I don't think you've seen that yet."
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The only trace of defense in evidence during All-Star weekend in Uncasville, Conn., came the day before the game, when Mercury guard Diana Taurasi spoke at length to reporters about her July 2 arrest in Phoenix on three drunk-driving charges—including one of extreme DUI, for a blood-alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit. "I'm not going to go hide in a corner," she said, while recognizing her mistake. "I've never done that, and I'm not going to start now."
The Mercury suspended Taurasi for two games. (Her court date is Aug. 21.) In Saturday's All-Star Game, her first action since the suspension, she had 18 points, reinforcing her determination to put the matter behind her. "I've done a lot of good in my life," she said. "This thing is not going to define me."
RON HOSKINS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
PASSING FANCY When Bevilaqua returned to the starting lineup, the Fever won 11 straight and vaulted atop the standings.
BARRY GOSSAGE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (TAURASI)