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Friday, July 19, 2019

Dream Take Eastern Conference Championship, Advance to WNBA Finals with 83-67 Game 3 Win Over Fever

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Photo Caption: Angel McCoughtry posted 26 points on Tuesday night to lead the Atlanta Dream past an injured Tamika Catchings and the home-standing Indiana Fever, 83-67, in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals. The win gave Atlanta its second consecutive WNBA Eastern Conference Championship, and with it, a trip to the WNBA Finals where they will face the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday for the first game in the best-of-five series.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe©

By Mel Greenberg

The Atlanta Dream lives on, but for the Indiana Fever and its star veteran player Tamika Catchings. the quest for a first-ever WNBA title is done for another year.

On Tuesday’s night, Coach Marynell Meadors’ team’s new tradition of rallying, overcoming adversity and winning Eastern Conference playoff games as an underdog trumped the Fever’s tradition of never losing similar series as the higher seed or in five previous games in the playoffs at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis determining who advances and who is done for another season.

As it evolved, to the detriment of the top-seeded Fever, the wrong Brazilian on the Dream took a leave of absence to play for her country in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Colombia.

After helping the Dream rally Sunday with a 30-point performance at the Philips Arena in Atlanta to even the best-of-three series, Iziane Castro Marques delivered 23 points behind teammate Angel McCoughtry’s 26 to propel the Dream to an 83-67 victory and a second-straight trip to the WNBA’s best-of-five championship series.

“She was lights out,” McCoughtry said of Castro Marques, who sizzled from the perimeter hitting five of seven three-point attempts.

The pair were joined in double figures by point guard Lindsay Harding with 16 points, plus five boards, six assists and four steals, and center Sancho Lyttle, who logged a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards to go with five steals and two swats.

Atlanta, who was the No. 3 seed in the East, will open Sunday at the Target Center, in Minneapolis, home of the Western Conference champion Minnesota Lynx, who finished the regular season with the WNBA’s best overall record at 27-7.

Ironically that means when the league finals move to Atlanta a week from Friday for Game 3, it will be another homecoming for former UConn star Maya Moore, the Rookie of the Year who was Minnesota’s pick in April as the overall No. 1 selection in the draft.

Moore grew up outside Atlanta and almost a year ago she played in front of friends and family for the first time when UConn traveled to play Georgia Tech.

In mid-June she returned home again, this time as a pro helping the Lynx to a weekend home-and-home sweep in the cross-conference match-ups.

Meanwhile, on Saturday starting center Erika de Souza departed to play with the Brazilian team, hoping Atlanta might still be in the playoffs when she is finished. That might not happen until this Saturday’s championship game, as Brazil currently stands atop the leaderboard with a perfect 4-0 record and is poised to advance to the semifinals when play resumes for the tournament’s top four preliminary round finishers on Friday.

Given the choice of staying with a tall lineup in de Souza’s absence or going with a three-guard offense and blazing speed to counter Indiana’s size advantage, Meadors called upon Castro Marques to resume a starting role that had vanished soon after Atlanta had limped off to a woeful 3-9 start in late June and early July.

“She’s been huge the last two or three weeks,” Meadors said. “When Erika went to the Brazilian team, she moved into the starting lineup and she never looked back. She played really, really well for us.”

“We lost our composure and poise because of their quickness,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. “Castro Marques makes their team quicker.”

Since Sunday, when Catchings suffered a foot injury, then of unknown severity late in Game Two and had to be carried off the court, it had not been known whether Indiana would have the services of the league’s Most Valuable Player award for Tuesday’s decisive Game Three. In a gutsy performance, the former Tennessee All-American provided a lift more emotional than anything else Tuesday night when she shook off what had been diagnosed as plantar fascia tear in her right foot and came off the bench to the cheers of the Conseco Fieldhouse crowd.

But Catchings was clearly not herself, and was held to 24 minutes by Dunn as a precautionary measure. She managed six points and grabbed five rebounds in that time. She also passed out three dishes and grabbed three steals, but was clearly a step slow, quickly picking up four personals. It was a valiant effort, but far from her typically dominant performance on either end of the floor.

Dunn and general manager Kelly Krausopf were not in favor of her playing, Catchings said, but the pain in her foot lessened as the day went on.

It was also publicly announced that Catchings took pain-killing drugs at halftime, at which point the Fever were just four points behind.

“We didn’t give our best performance,” Catchings said. “The second half we let it get away from us with turnovers and missed shots,” she said. The Fever coughed the ball up 18 times over the course of the game to just 12 miscues by the Dream.

“The (foot) feels fine,” Catchings added, though a slight limp suggested the opposite. “Injuries are part of the game. When you decide to play you just put that behind and move forward.”

On Monday, the Dream’s other powerhouse, Katie Douglas, had recognized that with Catchings’s status uncertain, the burden fell to her to produce an effort that was not just good but extraordinary. However, with Catchings at far less than full strength, the Dream were easily able to hold the veteran guard below her season playoff average of 22 points per game. Douglas collected 16 points and nine rebounds while Tammy Sutton-Brown, a veteran center and former Rutgers star, had 11 points and nine rebounds.

No other Fever player broke the double-digit scoring barrier.

“It was crazy, physical,” Douglas said. “And not only that, we looked terrible on offense, out of synch. We didn’t handle their adjustments. We didn’t adjust. It is on us. We didn’t handle the adjustments they made well at all.”

In Dunn’s view, it was more than just a matter of the game being physical. After the game, the seasoned coach had her checkbook at the ready as she cried foul over Atlanta’s incessant march to the line, where they dropped in 21-of-33 attempts, while the Fever were just made just 11 visits to the line, converting on seven of them.

“I’m sure I’m going to get fined by the league but I thought the officiating was just horrendous,” Dunn said. “If they’re going to have 33 free throws, they can have them, but at least give us more than 11.

“It was a physical game. It was a knock-down, drag-out game, and for whatever reason it seemed like the officials were all from Atlanta.”

“I don’t know why I didn’t get a technical, I sure tried,’’ Dunn added.

“I’m sure after Game One with all of the complaining that the coaches from Atlanta did and all of the players whining and everything, maybe it got to the officials, I don’t know,” Dunn continued. “I certainly didn’t think it was fair.” (Indiana was assessed with a technical less than two minutes into the game, but that was due to two quick delay-of-game violations and not due to remonstrations with officials.)

The Fever took Game One last Thursday when McCoughtry, the 2009 Rookie of the Year out of Louisville and No. 1 overall pick in the draft that season, was held to 11 points and played just 17 minutes because of foul trouble.

McCoughtry took a lot of heat from the fans on Tuesday. At one point late in the second period, Meadors tried to substitute her after McCoughtry had missed several attempts from both the floor and the line, then picked up her second—and unnecessary—personal foul. As the two teams lined up for Erin Phillips’s first foul shot, McCoughtry saw that Meadors was preparing to send Coco Miller in to substitute for her, and waved her off. As Phillips readied for her second shot, Meadors sent Miller in anyway, but rather than returning to the bench, McCoughtry refused to leave the floor, standing her ground and glowering at Meadors, until it apparently dawned on her that the Dream were in jeopardy of picking up a technical for having six players on the floor. To boos from the crowd, McCoughtry finally headed to the bench, complaining volubly and tossing a towel in the direction of the stands.

McCoughtry later said that was just her competitive instincts at work.

“I never want to come out,” she said in a remote interview with the NBA-TV studio hosts. “I was pumped up. I was ready.”

“It’s do or die. What else can you do? You just use it as motivation and pump your team up,” the Baltimore native said of contending with a hostile crowd.

Of course, with so little to cheer about as the Dream extended their lead to as many as 24 points, the Indiana crowd had nothing to do but heckle the opposition. Apart from the announcement that Catchings did not reinjure the Achilles she had torn in 2007 and that kept her out of action for part of the 2008 season and that she will not likely have to undergo surgery, the only good news for the Fever since last Thursday night’s home win was that Fever assistant coach Stephanie White, 34, a former Purdue star, gave birth late Monday morning to a son, Landon Fletcher, weighing 6 pounds, 10.5 ounces and five ounces and measuring 19 inches.

Tuesday night’s disappointing Eastern Conference Finals loss was an all-too-familiar outcome for Indiana, a franchise that seems destined to be always the bridesmaid but never the bride. This was the fourth conference finals appearance for the Fever, a perennial playoff participant, but a team that has been to the WNBA Finals just once, in 2009. They lost that series, 3-2, to the Phoenix Mercury after leading 2-1 heading into Game Four at Conseco. The Mercury rallied and then won Game Five in Arizona in the closing minutes, putting an end to the Fever’s title hopes.

Atlanta, in just its third year of existence last season, advanced to the 2010 WNBA Finals as a four seed, having beaten top-seeded Washington and second-seeded New York 2-0 in each matchup in which they had to open on the road.

They then lost to the Seattle Storm, who were the No. 1 overall seed at 28-6, but all three setbacks were by narrow margins for the smallest combined differential in the history of the playoffs.

Since then, though many expected Atlanta to come out on top, the Dream struggled with injuries and suffered through a 3-9 start. They also underwent another ownership change and along the way another key player, Sancho Lyttle, left for six games to play in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Spain and then missed six more after she returned because of back problems.

“Adversity builds character,” McCoughtry said of the difficulties early in the season when she herself was coping with a knee injury from training camp. “It was tough in the beginning, but it just makes you stronger. I’m actually appreciative of some of the things we went through in the beginning of the year because it helped us become a closer team and everybody loves each other and it helped us till now.”

Minnesota’s mid-June sweep of its regular-season series with the Dream occurred while Atlanta was still trying to regroup. In addition to coping with injuries, the Dream were still adjusting to point guard Lindsey Harding, the former Duke star who arrived from Washington in trade with the Mystics just before the season began.

But by mid-July the Dream began to click. They rallied to finish at 20-14, just one game behind Indiana and the Connecticut Sun and one ahead of the New York Liberty.

The Dream again proved their resilience in the playoffs. Having to open at Connecticut in the conference semifinals, the Dream rallied in the fourth quarter of Game One and then did likewise again in Game Two to advance to face Indiana. In this series, the Dream, who had swept their regular-season meetings with the Fever, bounced back from a Game One loss, to tie the series at home in Game Two, and then drive the stake through the heart of the Fever’s title hopes in Tuesday’s Game Three.

As for the upcoming series with Minnesota, McCoughtry said: “You have to give credit to the Lynx. They’ve paid their dues to get here. They’re the No. 1 team, but we’re going to have to do what we’ve been doing – play hard, play tough, take a (defense). Of course, we’re going to have our game plan. We’re just going to keep doing the things Atlanta’s been doing.

“Another key point is we’ve been here before. Last year Seattle was the No. 1 team and they swept us during the regular season so it’s great to have experience. This year we know what to expect, how to handle it, channel it and hopefully we’ll come through.”



Originally published Wed, September 28, 2011

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
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11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
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19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.