(ATLANTA) - The silence from all quarters in Atlanta has been very frustrating.
Marynell Meadors is silent. Dream ownership won’t talk.
But if basketball is a language, then Angel McCoughtry delivered the Sermon on the Mount, scoring 24 points in under 20 minutes of play to lead the Atlanta Dream to an 87-80 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Connecticut Sun.
"[Angel McCoughtry] really had to get her legs under her in the first half and get her rhythm in the second half," Atlanta Dream head coach Fred Williams said. "Her teammates, they all were looking for each other."
Even without McCoughtry getting the start – forward Cathrine Kraayeveld and guard Tiffany Hayes made the opening cut – the Dream showed they could hang with visiting Connecticut. Atlanta held the Sun’s center Tina Charles to two points and two turnovers in the first quarter and the Sun had trouble with the Dream’s running game. The Dream were helped along by the non-appearance of Sun forward Asjha Jones, suffering an Achilles injury.
"It wasn’t just one-on-one," Williams said of their ability to contain Charles, "it was rotating three or four players on different variations on defense to try to contain [Charles’s] touches…I feel the players really rotated well and got the back side of the boards on some of her misses."
After eight minutes and thirty seconds of exile, McCoughtry made her return to the court in the first quarter. A drive to the basket failed, but she scored two free throws to put Atlanta up 20-16 at the end of the quarter. The Sun were held to just 30 percent shooting and it was a promising start for the Dream.
Dream center Erika de Souza would prove to be a problem for Tina Charles and the rest of the Sun.
"We need to do a better job on Erika as a team, not just Tina," Thibault said.
Unfortunately, McCoughtry had some trouble shaking off the rust and the Sun took a 7-0 run to a 27-26 lead. With the Dream under the threat of the foul bonus the second quarter went back and forth until Atlanta’s Kraayeveld hit a 3-pointer followed by a fade away two to give the Dream a 37-33 lead with 2:51 remaining in the first half. De Souza got her own offensive rebound to put Atlanta up 39-33, but the Dream gave up the last six points with Sun guard Tan White closing out the half on a last second jumper to tie the game at 39-39.
Connecticut guard Kara Lawson led all Sun scorers with nine points in the first half, followed by guard Allison Hightower with seven. Dream forward Sancho Lyttle led all Dream first half scorers with nine points and three rebounds, but also had three personal fouls. Dream guard Armintie Price had seven points and four rebounds.
With McCoughtry starting the second half on the bench and with a couple of missed threes from Lyttle, Connecticut found the space for a 9-0 run to take a 51-46 lead in the third quarter with 5:05 left. Atlanta pushed the pace of the game to close the lead to 51-50, and then McCoughtry reappeared with 3:04 left in the third. McCoughtry scored her first basket and finished the quarter with a couple of free throws to tie the game at 58-58 with ten minutes to go.
From there, the lead see-sawed back and forth, with Tina Charles and Erika de Souza having their moments. A 3-pointer by Angel McCoughtry put the Dream up 72-67 with 5:10 left in the game. It would be a battle between McCoughtry, Sun guard-forward Danielle McCray and Sun guard Renee Montgomery for supremacy in the fourth quarter….
…but McCoughtry would match them both. She scored 18 points in the fourth, tying the combined output of McCray and Montgomery. McCoughtry shot 7-for-8 and hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, an astonishing performance. A block of Lawson’s final shot by de Souza punctuated the Dream victory with a big fat exclamation point.
"In the fourth quarter Atlanta got some great energy and the crowd got them into it," Charles said. "Angel was definitely driving. And then when we had help on Angel, Sancho or Erika were getting the rebounds and it was really tough."
"You can’t let a player get eighteen points in a quarter," Thibault said. "You just can’t do it."
McCoughtry led all scorers with 24 points in less than 20 minutes of play. She overshadowed the pair of double doubles earned by Sancho Lyttle (15 pts/13 reb) and Erika de Souza (14 pts/12 reb) in an amazing victory.
"We just played awful defense down the stretch," Connecticut head coach Mike Thibault said, "and you’re got the league’s leading scorer with the ball in her hands and we act like we don’t even see her for about five possessions. You’ve got to be off and helping and we weren’t. Our defense cost us the game in the fourth quarter. We scored enough points to normally win a game, but it was bad."
Kara Lawson led all Sun players with 16 points followed by Danielle McCray with 15. Tina Charles scored 11 points and had 11 rebounds, the third double-double among players of both teams.
* Angel McCoughtry has never failed to score in double figures in a game this season. In 14 games, she has scored at least 20 points.
* Fred Williams on McCoughtry’s return and meshing with the team: "It’s a first step. It means a lot not only to me but her teammates. She’s showing that she can move the ball, reverse the ball, and do all those things she’s been doing during the Olympic break. Hopefully, that continues on here."
* Sancho Lyttle on McCoughtry’s play: ""We all know she can do that, and to prove that she still can do that with all the things we had going on proves that she’s a good player and she can help us win."
* Where does Williams see the Dream needing to improve? "I think we need to get a little better free throw wise when we get to the line. And some of our passing. Other than that, I’m really pleased with the things they’re doing."
* Mike Thibault on Tina Charles: "She’s seen double teams and triple teams every night. When Asjha plays, she doesn’t see as many. It’s a little different. Danielle kind of took the pressure off, that’s why we were playing small at the end, so they couldn’t sag in and help as much, and when they did Danielle made them pay."
* Mike Thibault on Kara Lawson being a possible Most Improved Player winner: "Well, I don’t know about the Most Improved, because she’s always been a pretty good player. I think she’s making a case to be first team all-league. We have a lot of players on our team that are probably in that category. She’s been playing terrific all year. She was good again tonight."
* Mike Thibault stated that Mistie Mims should be playing sometime in the next week, but is currently day to day.