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Sun Eclipsed in Atlanta Under McCoughtry's 35-Point Shadow

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Angel McCoughtry put on a show for the Sun on Tuesday (photo by Craig Bennett/<a href="http://www.112575.com/" target="new">112575 media</a>)
Angel McCoughtry put on a show for the Sun on Tuesday (photo by Craig Bennett/112575 media)

(ATLANTA) – Objectivity has its place in writing up game results.  On the other hand, there are times when you have to put down your pencil and sit back in astonishment in what you’re watching. 

Some players fill up the box score in workman-like fashion, but others give Broadway performances.  Angel McCoughtry did the latter, putting the wrecking ball to the visiting Connecticut Sun and scoring 35 points in an 85-74 Atlanta home victory.

McCoughtry has a fan in the form of Atlanta Dream guard Armintie Price. 

"She needs to get it!  She’s doing what she has to do day in and day out to be there for the team," said Price. "She plays well on both ends.  She’s not just an offensive player.  She’s getting rebounds and steals.  She’s working hard.  My vote is for her. As an MVP, you have to do everything and she’s doing all of it."

After a 3-9 start, Atlanta might be the most dangerous team in the WNBA.  "It’s the best time to be hot," Atlanta Dream head coach Marynell Meadors said.  "Last year we came into the playoffs after losing 20-something points to Washington, then played them two nights later and won and ended up winning the whole series.  This is the best time to play well, to have your injured people back on the court, and to play well together, which I thought we did tonight."

The Dream took a 7-0 start but couldn’t keep it.  Connecticut guard Kalana Greene (and others) kept Atlanta guard/forward from making the quick drive to the basket and the Sun’s defense smothered the Atlanta transition game, replacing it with a measured pace more to Connecticut’s liking.  The visitors took a 15-13 lead on Sun guard Allison Hightower’s jumper with four minutes left in the first.  Dream posts Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle took rests late in the first and the Sun built the lead to 20-15, but Armintie Price scored the final four points to tie the game at 20-20 going into the second.

Connecticut guard Kara Lawson put the Sun back in the lead 25-20, but Atlanta answered with a 6-0 run led by Angel McCoughtry.  Whenever the Dream could control the tempo, they dominated.  Atlanta led 36-29 at one point with the help of guard Coco Miller but the Sun simply rolled right back with seven more points to tie.  While Connecticut center Tina Charles and McCoughtry were hitting double digits in points, the Dream were playing the full-court game that suited them more than it suited Connecticut with Atlanta taking a 48-42 lead into halftime.

McCoughtry had 15 first-half points to lead all players.  Coco Miller added eight points and Dream guard Iziane Castro Marques contributed seven points in the first half.  The two players scored 14 of Atlanta’s 28 second quarter points.

"Coco and Izi are both speedsters," Marynell Meadors said.  "They love to push the ball.  Coco came in and did a great job.  The number one thing she does is make them pay, anytime she makes a mistake on defense, she will turn around and score.  She’s valuable because she can play three different positions on the court and she does not care which position she plays, she just wants to contribute."

The Dream continued to sprint past the Sun’s man-to-man in the third, and McCoughtry cracked 20 points early in the quarter to give the Dream a 55-45 lead and a pair of free throws from Price took the lead to 57-45.  Atlanta led by double-digits for most of the third, but Dream center Erika de Souza ran into trouble with her fourth personal foul.  Despite some questionable shot selection by the Dream, McCoughtry put on a show with the Dream up 66-55 at the end of the third.

With McCoughtry resting to start the fourth, Castro Marques proved to be no substitute for McCoughtry and a guest appearance from Atlanta post Courtney Paris didn’t help the Dream as the Sun went on a 8-0 run to close the score to 68-63 with 7:42 left in the game.  With Erika de Souza and Angel McCoughtry back in the game the Dream righted themselves temporarily but the Sun charged back to close to 72-69 as Atlanta could not find the basket and Sun guard Renee Montgomery scored nine fourth-quarter points. 

But there was no stopping Angel McCoughtry.  She was on her way to her fifth 30-plus point game of the season, practically daring Connecticut to stop her.  Ten of her 35 points came in the fourth quarter, the bow on the gift-wrapping of Connecticut.

"They were coming back a little bit and we had to turn it back up a notch," McCoughtry said. "We had gotten a little laid back, but we had to keep playing until end."

"We just weren’t very good," Connecticut head coach Mike Thibault said.  "Our defense was bad in the first half and our offense was bad in the second half. One of the things we have done well against Atlanta this year has been able to control rebounds with them, but tonight they got 19 offensive rebounds. It was not a top flight performance for our team tonight."

"Defensively we didn’t play collectively as a team," Tina Charles said.  "Angel McCoughtry just broke our whole team down. She is a great player and made some tough shots. Some of her shots, like the layup, we should have been able to hold."

In addition to McCoughtry’s 35 points, Sancho Lyttle contributed a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.  Iziane Castro Marquez scored 11 points and Dream point guard Lindsey Harding had six points and eight assists.

For Connecticut, Tina Charles added yet another double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Renee Montgomery came on strong late in the game to add 16 points, seven assists and four steals.  Kara Lawson added 11 points, hitting three 3-pointers in the losing effort.

NOTES

* The Dream moves to third place in the Eastern Conference, ½ game ahead of the Liberty.

* Atlanta’s 19 wins ties the franchise record for regular-season wins, set last year.

* McCoughtry attempted her 273rd free throw on Tuesday, which brings her just two free throw attempts behind the all-time WNBA record of 275, set by Katie Smith for Minnesota in 2001.

* Tina Charles’s double-double was her 22nd of the season, tying her own record for double-doubles set last year.

* Charles also scored her 582nd point of the year, breaking the franchise record for most points in a season set by Katie Douglas in 2007.

* According to Kara Lawson, what the Sun are really looking for is home court advantage rather that angling to play a specific opponent.  "As far as playoffs for us, we are just trying to home court advantage. This is really our goal. We really are not concerned right now with whom we are going to be playing, but trying to lockdown home court. We want to have game one for us at home. If we win Sunday we will have the number two seed and that is what we are looking for."

* Why is Coco Miller so valuable to the Dream?  Meadors:  "To me, she’s really valuable because she can play three different positions on the court.  And she doesn’t care where she plays or how many minutes she plays."

* One thing that the Atlanta offense hasn’t seen very much is other teams playing a zone defense.  "I’ll be honest with you, I’m surprised that other teams all season long haven’t zoned us more than they have," Meadors said.  Meadors’s hypothesis was that Atlanta’s speed and quickness work to their advantage at breaking up a zone.

* Connecticut head coach Mike Thibault’s perspective on McCoughtry’s performance:  "Last time we ‘held’ her to twenty-two.  We didn’t make her work as hard tonight, I don’t think.  We let her get lay-ups in the first half.  She had five baskets that were lay-ups in the first half.  If she makes them because they’re jump shots and she doesn’t get to the rim, okay, then you say ‘good job, Angel’.  But if you let her get to the basket, it’s ‘good job Angel, but bad job us.’"