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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Going Small Comes Up Big for Atlanta, as Dream Beat Fever, 94-77, to Force East Finals to Game Three

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Photo Caption: While starting center Erika de Souza left the Atlanta Dream after Thursday’s Game One to play for the Brazilian National Team in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Colombia, Iziane Castro Marques, another Brazilian National Team member on the Dream roster, remained behind to finish out the WNBA playoffs. Dream coach Marynell Meadors tapped Castro Marques to fill the hole in the Dream’s starting line-up for Game Two Sunday, and Castro Marques rewarded her with a season-high 30-point explosion that helped carry Atlanta to 94-77 win over the Indiana Fever, tying the Eastern Conference playoff series at one apiece and forcing a decisive Game Three in Indianapolis on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Courtesy NBAE/Getty Images




By Mel Greenberg
Correspondent

Going small came up big for the Atlanta Dream Sunday. As a result of Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors’ decision to return 6-0 wing Iziane Castro Marques to the starting lineup the Dream are very much alive in the WNBA best-of-three Eastern Finals.

The Dream boast two members of the Brazilian National Team on their roster. The first, starting center Erika de Souza, answered her country’s call, leaving after Atlanta’s loss in Thursday’s Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals to join the Brazilian National Team at the FIBA Americas Championship for Women in Neiva, Colombia, where she helped Brazil take two steps closer to a berth in the 2012 London Olympics, putting up 18 points and pulling down eight rebounds in Brazil’s 117-34 pounding of Paraguay on Saturday, before suffering foul trouble and settling for a far less dominant five-point, five-board performance in Brazil’s 56-39 win over Canada on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s other “Girl from Brazil,” Castro Marques, who has been coming off the bench for the Dream since early July, opted to remain with Atlanta to assist in its quest for a return to the WNBA Finals. Meadors passed over several taller post players to tap Castro Marques to fill de Souza’s place in the starting line-up in Game Two and Castro Marques thanked her by scoring a season-high 30 points Sunday in Atlanta’s Philips Arena.

And though their victory was not quite so lopsided as Brazil’s pummeling of Paraguay, the third-seeded Dream made a statement that, as a team, they are not ready to return home, as they avoided elimination with a 94-77 rout of the top-seeded Indiana Fever. The Dream win sends the series back to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for Tuesday night’s decisive Game Three.

Two hours later, the Minnesota Lynx, who led the league in the regular season with a 27-7 record, eliminated the Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference Finals Sunday with a 103-86 victory in Arizona for a 2-0 series sweep and their first-ever trip to the best-of-five championship series.

The Lynx will host the winner of Tuesday’s Atlanta-Indiana duel for the first two games of the WNBA Finals, which tip off Sunday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. In regular-season play, the Lynx swept Atlanta 2-0 on a mid-June weekend and split with Indiana 1-1, with each team winning in the other team’s arena.

In 2010, Atlanta, in just the third season of its franchise history, began the playoffs as the East’s fourth seed, but advanced to the WNBA Finals, where the Dream lost three games by narrow scoring differentials to the Seattle Storm.

In 2009, Indiana made the Fever’s only trip to the WNBA championship series and after holding a 2-1 lead in a scoring slugfest with Phoenix, lost Game Four at home and then fell in the final minutes of Game Five to the Mercury in Arizona.

On Sunday back in the East, the day began with concern over what they hope will be de Souza’s tempory departure player to play for Brazil in the FIBA Americas Championship For Women, a qualifying event for next year’s Summer Olympics in London, England. (If Atlanta manages to make it past Indiana on Tuesday, de Souza could be back by the time the WNBA Finals get underway next Sunday.)

But the day dramatically ended with the Fever unsure whether their marquee player, newly minted WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings, will be available to play Tuesday night.

The former Tennessee All-American and 10-year veteran with the Fever went down with an undetermined injury to her right foot with four minutes, 54 seconds left in the game. Catchings landed on the foot of Dream center Alison Bales while trying to defend a shot by the former Duke star and had to be carried off the court by her teammates.

Fever coach Lin Dunn afterwards said, “The good news is it’s not her Achilles. ... “She knows that from past experience,” in reference to an injury that felled Catchings in September 2007, when she suffered a complete tear of her right Achilles’ tendon during the final minutes of the first half of Indiana’s Game Three Eastern Conference Finals loss at Detroit. Catchings underwent reparative surgery several days later, but her recovery required more than six months of rehabilitation.

More recently, an Achilles injury ended the season of Indiana starting point guard Briann January in late June this year.

A preliminary examination also tentatively ruled out a broken foot. Nothing further on Catchings’ status for Tuesday night would be known until Monday, according to Dunn. It had been a tough night for the star even before the injury: When Catchings was carted off the court she had scored only eight points, which is way off the mark of her 15-point average.

Castro Marques and de Souza over the weekend became the principals involved in a Dream sub-drama called “A Tale of Two Brazilians.”

In June 2010, when Brazil’s new head coach Carlos Colinas named both de Souza and Marques to the National Team pool of 18 prospects from which he hopes ultimately to draw his Olympic squad, both players said, to the applause of their Atlanta teammates, that they would not take their places on the Brazilian team until then end of the Dream’s 2010 season. That much was true, but when the two stars joined the team for the Women’s World Basketball Championships in the Czech Republic last autumn, Brazil had a disappointing run, finding themselves eliminated by the hosting Czechs in the eight-finals round.

The fallout came quickly. The Brazilian Basketball Federation sacked Colinas, a native of Spain, in December 2010, citing a “lack of commitment.” They replaced him with current coach Enio Vecchi, who led Brazil’s men’s team in 1993 and 1994. Vecchi is assisted on the sidelines by former Brazil and WNBA star Janeth Arcain.

Vecchi’s first job is to get the Brazilian women’s team qualified for the 2012 Olympics. It’s a job he takes quite seriously. Brazil’s women have competed at every Olympic Games since 1992 and Vecchi is not inclined to let that streak be broken under his watch.

For Brazil, the road to the 2012 Olympics runs through the FIBA America’s Championships currently underway. The winner of the tournament earns a guaranteed berth in London. The second through fourth-place finishers will get a chance to duke it out next year in yet another FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament with upper-tier finishers from zone tournaments held in Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania for the final five Olympic berths.

Thus began a series of international negotiations between the Dream and the Brazilian team that have lasted since January and included, according to Dream coach Marynell Meadors, “a lot of threats” from Brazil’s team that if de Souza missed the qualifying tournament “it would cause her not to play in the Olympics.”

The Dream announced Saturday that de Souza would be gone from Atlanta until the end of the FIBA America’s championship or Brazil was eliminated, whichever occurred first. Score: Vecchi 1, Atlanta 0.

“We knew we could lose her,” Meadors said. “We weren’t sure if when until the other day.

“The WNBA has working agreements national teams, they just work better with the USA team because they know our players,” Meadors continued.

“(DeSouza) was very torn between staying, because she loves this team, and going, because it was Brazil. She played 20 minutes (Saturday) and they won 117-34. I don’t think they need her. We need her and we’re going to try to get her back.”

Castro Marques also faced a choice of going to Colombia but decided to stay with the Dream, managing to beg off.

“I tried to stay out of her way and let her make her decision,” she said of de Souza. “I made mine and I was leaving her to make hers.”

Though Castro Marques is one of Brazil’s greatest stars, she has had a stormy relationship with her national team, including a well-publicized feud with former coach Paola Bassul. In 2008, Castro Marques already had 12 points to her credit during the quarterfinals of an Olympic Qualifying Tournament in the lead-up to Beijing, when after a halftime argument, Bassul benched his fiery leading scorer for the entire second half. Castro Marques was clearly unhappy about cooling her heels on the sidelines and when Bassul summoned her back into the game when it went into overtime, Castro Marques refused to return to the floor. Brazil went on to a 79-86 defeat at the hands of Belarus, but did well enough in its final two consolation bracket games to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.

Just who fired whom was a subject of some debate. Bassul announced after the game that the 26-year-old forward had left him with no choice but to drop her out of the national team and that she was on her way back to Atlanta.  He accused her of letting down not just himself, but also her teammates and all of Brazil.

Though Castro Marques later apologized to the team’s captain Claudinha Das Neves and to the Brazilian public, conceding she did not handle the situation well, she went on to vow that she would not play for the National Team as long as Bassul remained at the helm.

“I’m not coming back,” she told reporters. “This is my last game with Brazil as long as Paulo Bassul is the head coach.”

Bassul remained in charge during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and true to her word, Castro Marques, who had played in Athens in 2004, was not on the team. Meanwhile, Brazil, who had finished second behind the United States in Atlanta in 1996, third in Sydney in 2000, and fourth in Athens, plummeted to 11th place in women’s basketball at the Beijing Olympics.

Whether Castro Marques, who was delighted to be restored to the team after the changing of the guard in 2010, will suffer any adverse consequences for begging off the FIBA Americas tournament remains to be seen. But after witnessing her performance on Sunday against the Fever, he would be a fool to drop her.

With de Souza gone, it was speculated that Meadors would replace her in the starting lineup with Bales, a 6-foot-7 center, to go against Indiana.

But Meadors, who has also been serving as an assistant to UConn coach Geno Auriemma with the USA Basketball Senior National Women’s Team, opted instead to go for speed and a three-guard offense, a strategy she had used to good effect in last year’s playoffs. Thus, Castro Marques, who plays both the guard and forward positions, joined former Duke star Lindsey Harding and Armintie Price, who had missed time earlier this season with a foot injury, in the backcourt.

Ironically, Castro Marques had begun the season as a starter, but after Atlanta’s rugged 3-9 record at the outset, in part caused by a string of injuries including one to leader Angel McCoughtry, the Brazilian began seeing more time as a substitute.

Her previous season high was 19 points and she averaged 7.6 points per game this season, coming mostly off the bench since early July.

“I was just very focused today,” Castro Marques said of her 30-point performance. “I knew the importance to step into the lineup. Once I made a couple of shots, I kept going. I thought, `This is my night.’”

McCoughtry, who had been limited to 11 points and played just 17 minutes in Game One because of foul trouble, scored 27 points against the Fever while Sancho Lyttle, Price and Harding each scored 10 points.

Meadors praised Castro Marques’s play.

“She had tendinitis on her foot earlier in the season, which held her back,” Meadors said. “But she looked like the old Izi today.

“I couldn’t ask for anyone to step in and play any better than what Izi did today,” the Atlanta coach continued. “It was an awesome performance. She was the X factor for us that kept us going. She kept hitting shot after shot. She hit tough shots.”

Speed killed for Atlanta, who claimed a 25-11 advantage on fast-break points.

“Castro really hurt us with her shooting, so we’ll have to make adjustments,” Dunn said. “That’s why we won the Eastern Conference – to have the home court.”

Fever All-Star Katie Douglas, who had 25 points, including five three-pointers, jokingly inferred that perhaps Indiana would already be on the way to the WNBA Finals if Castro Marques had also gone to the Brazilian team.

“Maybe she should have went [sic] with the Brazilian national team, too,” the former Purdue star said. “Can we give her a call-up? She was awesome.”

If McCoughtry had struggled in Game One, Sunday’s competition saw things go the other way for Indiana’s Tangela Smith, who had 25 points in Indianapolis but scored just five points in Atlanta and was limited by foul calls.

Former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport scored 12 points off the bench for Indiana, while former Rutgers center Tammy Sutton-Brown scored 11.

Surprisingly, despite the absence of their starting center, Atlanta managed to stay nearly even with Indiana on the boards (36-37) and actually controlled the paint by a 40-38 margin.

In addition to Catchings’s injury, the game was marred by an unfortunate incident a little less than midway through the second period after Bales collided with Sutton-Brown, sending her hard to the deck, as both were vying for a rebound. Bales was whistled for the floor, but when Sutton-Brown was slow in getting up, several Fever players approached to assist her. As Davenport and Douglas drew near Bales, who was still hovering over Sutton-Brown at the “scene of the crime,” Davenport, by now on Bales’s left, elbowed her aside and into the path of Douglas, on Bales’ right, who bumped into the Atlanta center. Knocked off balance, Bales fell backwards, landing on top of Sutton-Brown who by now was trying to get up. The crowd of Dream supporters loudly joined Meadors in calling for the technical.

The officials conferred, ultimately deciding that the dead-ball contact had been incidental. The contact by Douglas, who immediately reached out to help Bales back up, seemed to be. Davenport’s ... well, not so much, but the officials did not appear to be in position to see it.

In any event, none of the Atlanta players or supporters seemed convinced by that decision, though cooler heads from the home team took Bales aside, preventing the situation from escalating at the time. Nonetheless, a combination of highly physical play (including one collision that had Catchings rubbing her shoulder in pain late in the first half well before her foot injury later in the game and another that sent Douglas to the bench to ice her jaw) and frayed tempers, especially by a frustrated Indiana side, persisted, until, in the game’s final minutes, Davenport and Bales were blown for double technicals.

Like Minnesota, which lost Game Two in the West semifinals before beating the San Antonio Silver Stars to advance, the Fever would still have confidence heading back to Indianapolis with home-court advantage for Game Three.

Indiana is 5-0 in deciding games in the playoffs that have been held at Conseco Fieldhouse.

But Catchings’s situation makes things less optimistic for Indiana.

“I know ‘Catch,” Douglas said. “I know if she has to crawl, she will crawl for this team. I don’t want to speculate on how we are going to play without her until we have a firm idea on what the injury was.”

     

 


 

 

 

Originally published Mon, September 26, 2011


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NCAA DIVISION I TOP 25 COACHES' POLL
WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Week: February 7, 2012
RANK SCHOOL RECORD LAST WEEK'S RANK PRESEASON RANK AP RANK POINTS
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
(61)
10 483
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
(70)
19 234
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
(38)
92
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
(18)
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
(13)
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
(23)
NR-RV
(19)
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.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
Ranking has risen since last week.
Ranking has dropped since last week.
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.