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Friday, July 19, 2019

LYNX SWEEP!  Take WNBA Crown with 73-67 Game-Three Win over Atlanta

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Photo Caption: Seimone Augustus accepts the WNBA Finals MVP trophy from league president Laurel Richie after leading the Minnesota Lynx to a 73-67 victory over the Atlanta Dream and a three-game sweep of the WNBA Championship Finals at Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on Friday, October 7.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

By Lee Michaelson

The Minnesota Lynx took their first-ever WNBA title, sweeping the Atlanta Dream in three games with a 73-67 win over the Dream on Friday night in Atlanta’s Phillips Arena.

It was the second year in a row that the Dream, a team that has seen incredible success with two Eastern Conference championships and two WNBA Finals appearances in its brief four-year existence as a franchise, had been swept.

Minnesota wing Seimone Augustus was named MVP of the Finals after leading the way for the Lynx with 16 points, plus five rebounds, four assists and a steal. In her best game of the Finals series, rookie Maya Moore returned to her hometown only to put a stake in the heart of the dreams of the 11,543 fans who turned out on Friday to cheer on the Dream. Moore finished with 15 points on six-of-nine shooting from the field, including two three-pointers, adding seven rebounds, and two assists but four turnovers.

Minnesota power forward Rebekkah Brunson added 13 points and hauled down nine boards, while Candice Wiggins came off the bench to tack on 10 points and five rebounds.

Angel McCoughtry led the way for Atlanta with a game-high 22 points, but on a dreadful nine-for-25 from the field (which would have been worse but for a fourth-quarter surge). The bigger problem for Atlanta was that while McCoughtry struggled, she got so very little help from the remainder of the team. Center Erika de Souza was the only other Dream player to finish in double figures, posting 11 points and pulling down 15 rebounds, for the game’s only double-double performance.

Notwithstanding their shooting woes—and unlike Games One and Two in which Atlanta wilted down the stretch—the Dream maintained their composure for the full 40 minutes, battling back from an eight-point deficit midway through the final period to close within one point with 1:20 to go. But over that final minute and change, Atlanta hoisted up more misses than makes, and forced to foul, put Minnesota at the line. Minnesota—and in particular, veteran center Taj McWilliams-Franklin—coolly made their foul shots (or most of them), pushing the lead back out to six by the time the final buzzer sounded.

Minnesota hasn’t seen a sports championship in 20 years, and the city of Minneapolis is poised to celebrate the Lynx win, with a downtown parade on tap for Tuesday, October 11, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Central, followed by a rally at Target Center at 12:15 p.m.

Photo Caption: Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus elevates for two of her team-high 16 points in Game Three. Augustus shot an efficient seven-of-12 (58.3 percent) from the field, grabbed five boards and passed out four assists in a consensus Finals MVP performance.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

The Dream started out strongly enough, running out to an early seven-point lead while the Lynx were still struggling to find their footing. Though by quarter’s end the score was close—20-17 in favor of Atlanta—the Lynx were shooting a woeful 33.3 percent (seven-of-21 from the field) to an adequate, if uninspiring, 40 percent (eight-of-20) for the Dream.

What kept Minnesota from being blown out in the opening period was the play of Candice Wiggins, who came off the bench for a team-high six points, including two-of-three from the arc. The rest of the Lynx were 0-for-four from downtown.

Photo Caption: Candice Wiggins came off the bench to knock down three of her four three-point attempts in the first half, keeping Minnesota in striking distance before their third-quarter rally. Wiggins finished with 10 points and five boards, two assists, a steal and a block.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

With six personal fouls called against the Lynx in the opening period to just one on the Dream, Atlanta, who had complained bitterly about the officiating on Wednesday in Game Two, had nothing to find fault with on this night. Instead, it was Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve who was tagged with a technical for protesting too vehemently.

Photo Caption: This fan expressed the sentiment of many Atlanta supporters that the Dream were robbed by the refs in Game Two. They had little to complain about in Friday’s Game Three in which both teams were whistled for 17 fouls apiece, and up until the fourth quarter, when the Dream began to foul to stop the clock, the Lynx were on the receiving end of 11 foul calls to the Dream’s 7 and had made just five trips to the line to the Dream’s 10.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

With starting center Taj McWilliams-Franklin playing with both knees covered in pads after reinjuring a surgically repaired knee in Game Two, Reeve became upset after reliever Jessica Adair was blown for her second personal so early in the game. She complained to the officials, received a warning, but persisted. Reeve said afterward that she didn’t think she had said anything “T”-worthy at the time, but after the refs called the technical, Reeve became so exercised that assistant coach Jim Petersen prudently dragged Reeve back to the Minnesota bench in an effort to avoid seeing her ejected.

Photo Caption: The greatest excitement of the first period came when Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve, ignoring a warning from the officials, persisted in protesting a call and was blown for a technical. Assistant Jim Petersen wisely pulled Reeve back to the bench to keep her from being whistled for a second.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

By the second period, the Dream, and especially their star McCoughtry, had cooled off considerably, while the Lynx were finding their stroke. Though a three-pointer by Alison Bales ran the Dream lead up to six in the first minute of the period, Minnesota’s Maya Moore quickly answered in kind.

De Souza fouled Moore in the process of shooting, and though Moore missed the free-throw, thereby squandering the opportunity to make it a four-point play, she rebounded her own miss, passing out to Wiggins, who netted a triple of her own. The six-point swing on that single possession tied the score at 23.

Moore, the 2011 WNBA Rookie of the Year, had struggled in the first two games of the Finals series against Atlanta, being held to 11 points on just two-of-nine (22 percent) from the field in Game One, and a mere eight points in a foul-straddled Game Two. On this night, as she became just the second rookie of the year in league history to win a WNBA title (the first being Cheryl Ford in 2003 with the Detroit Shock), the Lynx would have been hard-pressed to pull off the win without Moore’s outstanding play: 15 points on six-of-nine (66.7 percent) from the field, including two well-timed treys; seven rebounds; two assists; and a steal.

Asked whether she had saved her best performance for her return to her hometown of Atlanta, Moore demurred, noting that she had made her share of mistakes, as well as good plays, over the course of the game.

But McWilliams-Franklin observed what a “great building block” it was for Moore to come in and in her rookie year, to win a title:

“I told Maya when we were hugging on the stage, I said, ‘Your heart is right.’ Right attitude. Humility. Sweet kid. Raised properly. All good things follow good kids. Good things follow, no matter how long it takes, so I told her that she has many more. This is just number one in a long list. A long list of not only honors, but titles for her, and I really, truly believe that.”

Photo Caption: Minnesota’s Maya Moore heads to the hole. Moore became only the second player in league history to bring home the Rookie of the Year award and a WNBA title in the same year.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

Moore’s trey would launch a 10-point Minnesota run, as first Augustus and then Brunson drove the lane for layups, while Atlanta chucked up nothing but misses at the other end.

Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors called a quick timeout when she saw her team quickly losing momentum. Out of the timeout, Atlanta point guard Lindsey Harding missed yet another mid-range jumper, but her teammate, Armintie Price tipped in the rebound to put Atlanta back in the game.

Lindsay Whalen answered with a fade-away jumper, but after grabbing the board from a missed McCoughtry three-point attempt at the other end, coughed it back up to the quick-handed McCoughtry. After McCoughtry knocked down a long jumper, Sancho Lyttle picked the pocket of Minnesota’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and once again, McCoughtry made Minnesota pay as she dropped in a short jumper on an assist from Harding, then converted the free-throw to make it a traditional three-point play. That quickly, Atlanta was back on top, 30-29.

Over the next two-and-a-half minutes, Atlanta took advantage of three more Minnesota turnovers to run up a five-point lead. But Augustus snapped the 11-2 Atlanta run with a short jumper that closed the gap to three with just under two minutes to play in the half.

Apart from a single de Souza free-throw (one of a pair from the line), the remainder of the period was marked by sloppiness as both sides traded misses and turnovers the rest of the way.

Though Atlanta carried a four-point edge (37-34) into the break and again outscored Minnesota, albeit just barely (17-16), in the second period, the momentum was starting to shift. For the period, the Lynx were now shooting nearly 54 percent from the field and went a perfect two-for-two from the arc as Wiggins netted another three-pointer and Moore dropped in one from long range.

Meanwhile, the Dream had cooled to just 36.8 percent field-goal shooting in the second period, and McCoughtry, who had gone three-for-six in the opening stanza shot just two-for-six in the second. Worse, no one else seemed to be stepping up to fill the void. Even de Souza, who had led all scorers in the first period with eight points on three-for-six shooting, had cooled to an icy (should we say, “frozen”) 0-for-four in the second period, her only point coming at the line.

Photo Caption: (Left) Brazilian center Erika de Souza was the only Atlanta player other than Angel McCoughtry to reach double figures. De Souza finished with 11 points, all but two of them in the first half, plus a game-high 15 rebounds. (Right) De Souza repeatedly appealed to the crowd to get into the game.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

If Meadors hoped to turn things around in the locker room, she would be sorely disappointed, as her team came out totally flat. Indeed, it was hard to find a bright spot for the Dream, whose shooting cooled even further to a dreadful 22.2 percent (four-for-18 from the field, including 0-for-three from long distance), putting up just eight points as a team in that pivotal third quarter.

Monday morning quarterbacks may question why McCoughtry, who set a WNBA Finals scoring record of 38 points on Wednesday night, spent so much of the third (nearly four minutes) and fourth (nearly three-and-a-half) on the bench. The answer wasn’t foul trouble—she had yet to pick up any. Instead, it was a matter of judgment, or a lack thereof. McCoughtry shot an ice-cold one-of-five in the third period, while turning the ball over twice. Many of those shots—read misses—were taken early in the shot clock. Nor was McCoughtry spending much energy looking for open teammates—her only assist of the night had come in the opening quarter, a little more than one minute into the game.

Asked whether the Lynx had made any defensive adjustments in an effort to contain McCoughtry, who had also logged 33 points in Game One, Reeve at first demurred.

“Honestly, we didn’t change anything game-wise,” she stated. “We felt like Game Two wasn’t a good game for us. No disrespect to Atlanta, but we didn’t play very well and with us, it starts with defense. We felt like we didn’t show them who we were defensively in those two games. So we tried to do everything better, exact same scheme.”

Photo Caption: The Minnesota defense made sure that Atlanta star Angel McCoughtry, who set a new WNBA Finals scoring record (38 points) in Game Two, got few easy looks in Friday’s Game Three. McCoughtry finished with a game-high 22 points, but on woeful nine-of-25 (36 percent) shooting, and fared even worse for long stretches in the second half.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

But then Reeve acknowledged that they had made “minor adjustments” with respect to defending McCoughtry:

“Minor things—we started trapping Angel McCoughtry everywhere, instead of just in the middle of the floor, and we tried to make her touches more difficult. I thought Seimone [Augustus] did a great job of making it tougher for her, and she still got 25 shots, and she’s a great player.”

Augustus, who earned her MVP honors as much with her defense of McCoughtry as with her dazzling arsenal of driving lay-ups and pull-up jumpers, had this to say about what she and her teammates were doing to create what was perhaps one of the worst shooting nights of McCoughtry’s professional career:

“[We did] something we should have been doing in the first game—dictating, making every pass difficult, deny[ing] her touches, and when she tried to attack, contain her, stand in front of her, make her night difficult.  I think we were closer than we were in previous nights in containing her and contesting her shots. The other nights she had a little more room and tonight we smothered her and forced her into bad shots.”

The problem for Atlanta was that, as in the second quarter, there was no one else to fill the void left by McCoughtry’s cold hand. The only player in home whites to shoot better than 33.3 percent in the the third period was Coco Miller, who went one-for-two in the two minutes she was on the floor. Iziane Castro Marques, who had come up big for the Dream against Indiana, went 0-for-four in the third period of Game Three. Lindsey Harding, who put up 20 points on 47.3 percent from the field in Game One against Minnesota, neither made, nor even attempted, a shot in the third quarter of Game Three. No one seemed to be looking inside to Lyttle (who took one shot and missed it) or de Souza (who got three looks, but made only one).

Photo Caption: Coco Miller was the only Dream player shooting the ball even passably well during a torturous third quarter. Miller scored only two points in the period, but at least did it efficiently, going one-for-two in her two minutes on the floor in that period.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

Meanwhile, Minnesota took advantage of the Atlanta scoring drought to run off 19 points, on 50 percent (nine-of-18) from the field and take a seven-point (52-45) lead heading into the final period. The Lynx were distributing the ball well, and with everyone getting into the act were taking full advantage of the multiple scoring options that make this team so difficult to defend against.

Still, the game was by no means out of reach. And to their credit, unlike the first two games in which Atlanta led most of the way, then crumbled in the final period when Minnesota battled back to take the lead, this time, the Dream maintained their composure right down to the final minutes despite seeing their own attempts to rally repeatedly thwarted.

Meadors rightly praised her team for that fighting spirit.

“There is a lot of fight in this team, I can tell you that, and they know what it’s all about to be in Championship games,” said Meadors. “That’s the value of this team. That’s who we are. We never give up. Whatever the score is, we never, ever, ever give up, and I thought that everybody could see the fight that we had. Especially coming down the stretch. We had the momentum and we had them back-pedalling, so I think that, you know, it wasn’t in the cards for us to win it. Maybe the third time is the charm.

Minnesota went cold again in the first three minutes of the final period, and the Dream capitalized on their opponent’s misses and turnovers, hitting the boards hard and quickly cutting the Lynx lead to three as Bales and Castro-Marques knocked down mid-to-long-range jumpers.

But if the Dream were more composed at crunch time in this game than they were in the previous two, the Lynx are the paradigm of poise and composure. Brunson got the party started, taking a feed from Monica Wright and knocking down a 16-footer.

Photo Caption: Minnesota’s Rebekkah Brunson with the circus shot—an over-the-head, behind-the-back lay-up for two of her 13 points on the night. Brunson fell just shy of a double-double with nine rebounds and also dished out three assists and grabbed three steals, though she coughed up five turnovers.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

On the next Lynx possession, Wiggins missed a three-point attempt and de Souza and Wright tangled in the battle for the rebound. Wright was called for the personal foul, but De Souza impatiently shoved her away, and was blown for the technical, which Whalen made good at the foul line, to put Minnesota back up by six (57-51).

Harding answered with a fade-away, but still the Dream could gain no traction, as Augustus responded at the other end, driving the lane, then pulling up for the jumper. A minute later, de Souza put the Lynx in the bonus, and Jessica Adair knocked down both ends of the one-and-one to give the Lynx an eight-point lead (59-51) heading into the final five minutes.

Over the next three minutes, each time the Dream would chip into the lead, the Lynx would answer back, with most of their scoring in this span coming at the charity stripe. The effort on both sides was intense, with each team scrambling to pick off errant passes and hitting the deck in pursuit of loose balls.

With Atlanta’s season on the line and less than four minutes left to play, McCoughtry finally rediscovered her stroke, netting a pair of free throws, and then after Price picked off a rare bad pass by Whalen, came out of a timeout, to knock down a 17-footer for cut the Minnesota lead to five.

That’s when Moore took a feed from Augustus and drained a three to restore the Lynx to an eight-point advantage (64-56) heading into the final two minutes.

With the game seemingly in the bag, Atlanta turned to a full-court press and Minnesota made a series of errors that gave the Dream the chance to get back into it. Brunson, whose play was otherwise outstanding, needlessly fouled Harding, who made both free throws, then on the next Lynx possession, was stripped by Price.

Then it was the veteran McWilliams-Franklin fouling McCoughtry, who netted both at the stripe.

Next it was the rookie’s turn to fumble, as Moore had her pass picked off, once again by the quick-handed Price. Castro Marques capitalized on the opposite end, nailing a three-pointer with an assist from Harding, and suddenly it was a one-point game, the score, 63-64 Minnesota, with over a minute still on the clock.

Reeve called a timeout to regroup her troops. They hadn’t been surprised by the Atlanta press, she said later, but neither had they handled it very well.

“As a matter of fact,” said Reeve, “in that timeout before the two turnovers, we said they were goingto trap us. We didn’t respond very well in the way of our passing. Lindsay [Whalen’s] pass to Maya [Moore] wasn’t that bad, and Maya had a rookie moment where she abandoned the ball, and that’s what makes the win so much sweeter—when you go through those difficult times, they pulled within one with lots of time left, and we were able to hang on.”

Augustus said later that she and her teammates had not even considered the possibility of a Game Four when Atlanta closed the gap so late in the game:

“No! No way! No way!” she said. “Only thing we said was, “Relax. Poise.” We were trying to do too much, too soon. They trapped, and we tried to throw it over the top. Their big post players—they’re going to get deflections. We have to beat them with bounce passes, and as soon as we got the ball, we tried to get rid of it. And they are too quick to do things like that so once we settled down, we tried to move the ball around, and forced them to make fouls and at the end made free-throws.”

The Lynx would spend the rest of their night at the line making those free throws and knocking most of them down.

When the Lynx broke out of the press, passing out to McWilliams-Franklin who headed fast to the hoop, Harding flew into her to deny her the layup. The veteran was good for both penalty shots.

McCoughtry missed a long jumper, and after the Lynx secured the board, Price fouled Whalen. Only Price herself knows for sure whether that foul was intentional or not, but if so, it seemed premature. On the one hand, Atlanta was down by just three, with 51.5 seconds left to play. On the other, the Dream are a notoriously poor three-point shooting team, and so may already have considered it a two-possession game.

In any event, Whalen made the second of the pair at the line, and it was now, beyond question, a two-possession game.

Out of a timeout, Castro Marques missed a short, rushed and off-balance jumper, and Atlanta allowed nearly 10 seconds to run off the clock before McCoughtry finally fouled McWilliams-Franklin, who had grabbed the board. The 40-year-old center was perfect once more, netting both free throws to make it a six-point game (69-63) with 35 seconds remaining.

Reeve had made the journey to the WNBA title as an assistant with Detroit in 2008 alongside McWilliams-Franklin, who had been brought in to fill a void in the post left by late-season injuries. After Game Three, Reeve singled out the veteran, who played through a knee-injury sustained in Game Two, praising her, not just for her cool head and hot hand at the free-throw line down the stretch, but for her overall impact on Minnesota’s championship season.

“The reason we signed Taj is because she is so steady. It’s probably wise not to run your 40-year-old into the ground [but it is hard to take her out of the game because] she is so steady. ... I don’t remember a signing in an off-season that affected a team as much as she affected ours in a positive way. Being healthy helped. Maya Moore was okay. I just felt like Taj was so instrumental in this season,” said Reeve, who added that the Lynx were going to start talking with McWilliams-Franklin “right now” about returning next season.

Photo Caption: Playing with both knees heavily padded due to an injury to a surgically repaired knee sustained in Game Two, veteran center Taj McWilliams-Franklin logged only seven points in Game Three—but four of them, from the line during crunch time, were crucial to the Lynx win.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

Atlanta called time, subbing in Bales for de Souza. The play may well have been drawn for Bales, who had netted one of her two attempts from beyond the arc on Friday, but if so, it did not work out that way. McCoughtry took a pass from Bales and ran it in for a fast-break lay-up, cutting the margin to four, but leaving it still a two-possession game with a little less than 32 seconds now left.

Lyttle came back into the game for Bales, and after a 20-second Minnesota timeout, Castro Marques wasted no time in fouling Augustus to stop the clock. With time running down, there was little choice, but Augustus, who made both, extending the Lynx lead to six, was not the person Atlanta would most have liked to see at the line.

McCoughtry answered once again with a running layup, and after Minnesota called yet another timeout (why, who knows, but the tactic obviously worked for the Lynx) Harding put Moore at the line where she made one of the pair.

Back in possession, Castro Marques missed the runner and the Lynx recovered the board. This time Harding was forced to foul Whalen, who was good for one of the pair, to make the final score 73-67.

Lyttle grabbed the miss, and fired it to McCoughtry on the fast break. By this point, down six with less than 13 seconds to play, it was largely a token effort, but McCoughtry closed the book on a game she will be grateful to forget by blowing the two-foot lay-up.

Photo Caption: (Top left, blue blazer) Hall-of-Famer Julius Irving (Dr. J) and rapper Lil Wayne (top right, grey sweatshirt) were among the 11,543 fans on hand to cheer on the Atlanta Dream. Three local sports franchises, the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks, bought 1,500 tickets which were distributed by the Dream to community groups on Thursday. Though the crowd was characterized as a “sellout,” the upper decks on one side of Phillips Arena, which has a capacity of 18,729 for basketball, were curtained off. (Bottom) A sizable contingent of Minnesota fans joined in the celebration after making the journey from Minneapolis to Atlanta to support the Lynx.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

Neither team shot the ball well in the final period, with Minnesota landing just 33.3 percent (three-of-nine) from the field, and Atlanta netting an only modestly better 38.1 percent (eight-of-21).

The Lynx were fortunate to come out with the win despite 20 turnovers, to just 11 for Atlanta. But the Dream put the Lynx, who had paid just five visits to the charity stripe in the first three quarters combined, at the line for 19 free-throw attempts in the final period. Though well off their season average, Minnesota netted 14 (73.6 percent) of their free-throws down the stretch, which was more than enough for the victory.

Despite a game-high 15 boards by de Souza, the Lynx, led by Brunson’s nine rebounds, hit the glass as a team, in the end winning the battle of the boards, 40-38, against an Atlanta team known for their strong rebounding.

In the end, as Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors acknowledged, Minnesota did what it needed to do to win.

“They have an awesome team,” said Meadors. “They have great depth and they’re big and physical and I think it takes a lot out of a smaller team like we are.”

Whether Atlanta is a smaller team than Minnesota or not depends a lot on the lineup Meadors herself decides to go with. The Dream’s starting lineup is anchored by the 6-5 de Souza and 6-4 Lyttle, backed up on the bench by 6-7 Alison Bales and 6-4 Courtney Paris. In contrast, the tallest players on the Minnesota roster are rookie Amber Harris (6-5), who sees very little playing time and Jessica Adair (6-4), who also comes off the bench. When it comes to the Lynx starters, Brunson (6-2) and McWilliams-Franklin (also 6-2) give up several inches to the Dream bigs.

But Minnesota uses its height effectively, as Meadors went on to note.

“We’ve got to give credit to Minnesota. They are a great basketball team. They’ve got great depth, and great shooters and they’ve got great rebounders and they’re big and physical and they run the floor pretty well and they have got everything they need to win something like this. ... To me, Minnesota did what it needed to do.”

As for her own team, Meadors also summed things up quite accurately. The Dream were a team that just four years old as a franchise, wasn’t supposed to get to the WNBA Finals yet—let alone get there two years in a row. After starting off the season in disarray, tumbling to a 3-9 record by mid-July, they were not supposed to get into the playoffs this year, but they did. Once there, they were not supposed to beat the higher seeded New York and Indiana, but they did that too.

But when it came to Minnesota, the Dream had met their match, and in the end, they did not, as a team, do what they needed to do to win.

“We didn’t hit our free-throws [Atlanta was 11-of-16 from the line in Game Three] and our easy shots [the Dream finished Game Three shooting just 34.6 percent (27-of-78) from the field]. Had we done that, we might have been sitting her as winners, but we did not do it. We have to figure out what we have to work on between now and next year, and we only have a couple of days, because the players are taking off to Europe.”

Photo Caption: Atlanta’s Armintie Price wipes away tears as the buzzer sounds and the celebration begins for the Lynx at the other end of the floor. Price scored only six points in Game Three, but she found other ways to contribute, pulling down five boards and dishing out four assists. Price also grabbed five steals, including several that were instrumental in the Dream’s late-game rally.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

Meadors didn’t ask for suggestions, but we’ll go ahead and offer a couple anyway.

The Dream have a good deal of what is needed to win a championship. In de Souza and Lyttle, they have two powerful bigs who can be counted upon in most situations to control the glass and chip in low-double-digit scoring on a regular-basis. In picking up Harding this year, they took a big step forward, adding a steady floor-general who presented a scoring threat while still doing a good job in distributing the basketball.

In McCoughtry, they have a passionate superstar and a prolific scorer. The same can be said of Castro Marques, if to a lesser extent. Both have the ability to turn the outcome of games.

But both are volume shooters. And both are players who feed off their emotions, but at the same time can be eaten up by them. And both the good and the bad of that—their passion and their emotional immaturity—are contagious, easily infecting their teammates for better or worse.

What the Dream need most is a reliable third scoring option, a player who can be counted on to put up points in the mid-double digits on a nightly basis, and above all, to do that in an efficient manner, without becoming a black hole for the basketball. And if one could have her druthers, that player would be a charismatic veteran with the steadying influence of a Taj McWilliams-Franklin.

There aren’t a whole lot of players who fill that bill, and coming by one is going to be all the harder for the Dream, who are likely to find themselves picking rather late in a fairly shallow draft. So the alternative would be an epiphany for McCoughtry, who badly needs to mature into her role if she is to succeed as this team’s leader.

A McCoughtry who adds to her already dazzling array of on-court skills the wisdom to become a facilitator, looking for the open shooter when she finds herself double and triple-teamed; the maturity to maintain focus on the game while allowing adverse calls and the ups-and-downs of play in a highly physical game in which she is bound to attract the best and most aggressive defenses opponents can throw at her to just roll off her; and the ability to inspire her teammates with her confidence and emotional steadiness when the chips are down—now that is a player who could lead the Atlanta Dream not just to the WNBA Finals but to the WNBA championship.

Check back soon for more WNBA Finals coverage and photos.

Originally published Fri, October 07, 2011

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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.