Looking to stay above expectations while staying loose, the rebuilding Indiana Fever begin a challenging stretch of their schedule Wednesday night when they face the struggling Atlanta Dream.
After winning six games last year, the Fever (4-4) have been a pleasant surprise. This game marks the beginning of a run in which they will play six of their next seven on the road, highlighted by games at defending WNBA champion Seattle and projected title contenders Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Indiana has been idle since a 70-64 home loss to Chicago on Saturday, but forward Erica McCall became a social media sensation for performing Ludacris' lyrics to "The Champion" with country star Carrie Underwood at a concert the following night. The nearly two-minute video clip released by the team's Twitter account generated more than 70,000 views.
"I just finished performing with the one and only Carrie Underwood," McCall said in a post-performance video posted on the Fever's Twitter profile. "Had the time of my life. It was absolutely amazing, a rush of adrenaline. I gotta get up there and do it again. Thank you all. Thank you, Carrie. It was a great opportunity."
As for the loss to the Sky, the Fever were not able to sustain their early play, which led to a 21-17 lead after a quarter. Indiana shot a season-low 33.3 percent as Kelsey Mitchell paced the team with 16 points and five rebounds. Rookie Teaira McCowan continued to show signs of progress, chipping in eight points in 14 minutes off the bench.
"She's moving that body and doing her work early," Fever coach Pokey Chatman said of McCowan to the team's official website. "Catching it deep, putting people in jail - you are seeing that. When the ball is moving on the perimeter and her man has to help, she was able to get a couple of offensive rebounds and putbacks."
Atlanta (1-5) is in a place Indiana knows all too well from last year - the bottom of the standings. The Dream continue to struggle without injured star Angel McCoughtry, who is not expected back until August at the earliest, and are winless since opening the season with a 76-72 victory over Dallas on May 24.
The Dream were unable to beat the Wings for a second time Saturday, losing 71-61 on the road. Atlanta led by as many as nine points in the first half but was overwhelmed by a 17-4 third-quarter run, and a 9-3 burst by Dallas at the start of the fourth put the game out of reach.
"They have potential to beat anyone; they have it," McCoughtry recently told The Athletic as she's watched her teammates from the bench. "It's there, I wouldn't say it if it wasn't. They are just figuring it out right now."
Elizabeth Williams scored 16 points and Alex Bentley added 11 off the bench, but Bentley left the team to represent Belarus at the upcoming EuroBasket tournament. That puts the offensive onus on Williams along with leading scorers Brittany Sykes (10.8 ppg) and Tiffany Hayes (10.2).
Atlanta, though, is last in the WNBA in overall shooting (36.4 percent), 3-point shooting (25.0) and scoring (67.7).