(ATLANTA) – Skylar Diggins was making her WNBA regular season debut in Atlanta - and the Dream intended to spoil it. Riquna Williams scored 16 points in the second quarter to give Tulsa a shot of ringing in the Diggins Era with a win, but 10 third quarter shock turnovers snuffed out Tulsa’s chances as Atlanta won their first game of the season 98-81 in front of a crowd of 7,519 at Phillips Arena.
“Atlanta is very, very athletic,” Tulsa head coach Gary Kloppenburg said . “They really just kind of ran it down our throats, off turnovers, and their quickness really bothered us. They drove the ball, they got it in the middle, I thought they looked really good on their first game out.”
And Diggins’s assessment? “I thought we executed well. It’s our turnovers that really killed us. I think we had 25. We had 10 in the third quarter, and like I said that really killed us, but other than that, besides kind of pressing at the end to close in on the lead, I thought we did alright.”
The beginning of the game was marked not so much by what Diggins did as what Tulsa center Elizabeth Cambage didn’t do. Cambage would only play 1:43 in the first quarter, sent to the bench with two fouls. Despite Tulsa’s tight defense the Dream veterans looked good, finishing the first quarter with an 8-0 run to lead 29-16 after ten minutes. Atlanta shot 65 percent in the first quarter.
The second quarter, however, belonged to Tulsa guard Riquna Williams. With Atlanta’s starters on the bench, Williams took the game into her own hands shooting 5-for-9 and hitting two three pointers from the corner. With Atlanta center Erika de Souza on the bench with three fouls, a 34-18 lead was cut down to one point -- 43-42 on a free throw by Tulsa forward Glory Johnson with 1:29 left in the first half. Atlanta hung on to the lead but only led 48-44 at the half.
“We said before the game that there were two players who could get hot on you,” Atlanta Dream head coach Fred Williams said, referring to Glory Johnson and Riquna Williams. “Williams has some good outside shooting and can play in-and-out. It happened with Williams.”
After halftime, Atlanta took care of business. The Shock turned the ball over 10 times in 10 minutes, as the Dream built its lead back into double digits, forcing Tulsa to call a time out with 8:19 left in the quarter. A drive by point guard Jasmine Thomas put the Dream up 60-49 with six minutes left in the third quarter and the Dream’s lead would never fall below double digits for the rest of the game.
Five of Atlanta’s 14 steals would come in the third quarter, two from guard Armintie Herrington. Tulsa forward Roneeka Hodges would score 10 of her 14 points in the final quarter, but the Dream’s lead was never really in doubt.
Atlanta guard Tiffany Hayes scored 21 points to lead Atlanta, just two points short of her career high. “Tiffany is a super player,” Williams said. “She plays hard every time. It’s very nice to have her get minutes so coming off the bench and not being a starter, she does whatever it takes to help the team win. When I talk about players I talk about minutes, so she plays hard for her minutes.”
Five Atlanta players would score in double figures, and forward Sancho Lyttle would score 18 points and 10 rebounds. Armintie Herrington scored 13 points with a career-high five steals. Atlanta would shoot 52.8 percent from the field, highly efficient with their scoring.
For Tulsa, Riquna Williams led all scorers with 22 points. Point guard Skylar Diggins would have 15 points and three assists, but had five of her team’s 22 total turnovers.
Cambage would finish with 13 points and eight rebounds. How did she feel about her performance? “Horrible. I felt so uncoordinated out there. I thought I was gonna fall flat on my face but I just have to get the cobwebs out. I’m getting used to the girls - I haven’t played in three months with my hand. But yeah the only way to go is up.”
* The Dream are 6-1 against the Tulsa incarnation of the Shock franchise. Atlanta’s last loss to the Shock was on August 28, 2012 when they lost to Tulsa 84-80. That game was Fred Williams’s first game as Atlanta head coach, and he played it without Angel McCoughtry (and the Shock played it without Elizabeth Cambage).
* Both teams had fine nights from the free throw line. Tulsa went 28-for-30 with a 93.3 percent success rate. Atlanta went 19-for-24, making 79.2 percent of their attempts.
* With Armintie Herrington going by her married name, her nickname of “Half Price” – due to her poor career free throw shooting – will have to be retired. Pri – uh – Herrington went 3-for-6 at the line.
* It looks like Atlanta’s point guard situation is settled according to Señor Fred. The Dream will start Jasmine Thomas at point, with Alex Bentley coming off the bench. “It is a learning process for both of them (Thomas and Bentley), but you will probably see that rotation a little bit. I also had Armintie Herrington at the point guard for a little bit in the third and fourth quarter, to generate some drives to the basket.”
* Angel McCoughtry said that she felt “a little rusty”. McCoughtry scored 16 points but only scored three points from the free throw line, and McCoughtry gets a lot from the line. “She’s still a step slower because of the overseas play,” Williams said, “but she’ll get it together here. I was real pleased how she got to the rim.”
* The Dream were called for two defensive 3-second violations. (Tulsa had one.) How is the Dream getting used to the new rule? “I’ll take two. At least it ain’t five or six. I’ll take two, it’s still a learning process for everyone,” Williams said. “Teams are going to run some pro sets and isolation things, and if you’re not set on the weak side they’re going to call it on you. Expect at least one or two on a team, because a player is used to standing in the paint on the weak side.”