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Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Sun Won’t Come Out Tomorrow for Connecticut As Atlanta Sweeps Eastern Semifinal Series

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Photo Caption: Brazilian center Erika de Souza, one of four Atlanta Dream players to finish with 12 points, made it a double-double with 10 rebounds in a 69-64 Game Two victory over the Connecticut Sun in Atlanta’s Phillips Arena Sunday. With the win, the Dream swept the WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Sun, 2-0.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

By Mel Greenberg

There will be a Monday night for the fourth-seeded New York Liberty in their best-of-three WNBA Eastern Conference semifinal series with the top-seeded Indiana Fever, after the Liberty evened things up, 1-1, at home Saturday to stay alive.

However, in the other Eastern semifinal there’s no tomorrow for the Connecticut Sun.

For the second straight game the third-seeded Atlanta Dream rallied in the fourth quarter, this time at home in their Phillips Arena, to finish off second-seeded Connecticut’s season Sunday afternoon with a 69-64 victory in Game Two of their Eastern Conference semifinals series.

With defense of their 2010 Eastern Conference playoff championship still intact, the Dream will await Monday night’s result from Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to see if they open Thursday on the road against the Fever or at home against the Liberty.

Atlanta dropped its season series with New York, 3-2, though some of those losses occurred in June and July when the Dream were struggling with injuries and suffered a 3-9 start before turning things around. They swept Indiana 4-0 with three of those wins coming late in the season.

Apparently getting things done later seems to work well enough for the Dream, who have now swept three straight Eastern playoff series 2-0 dating back to last season when as the fourth seed they dispatched the Washington Mystics and New York, who were the top two seeds.

On Friday night Atlanta trailed by five points with nine minutes, 10 seconds left in the game when the Dream had to pull team leader Angel McCoughtry, who had been assessed her fifth personal foul.

She didn’t return until the final minute but Atlanta took care of business without her, outscoring the Sun 28-18 for the entire quarter to get things done on the road with an 89-84 triumph. The Dream were the only visiting team in all four WNBA conference playoff series to win an opener.

On Sunday, Connecticut was on the way to becoming the only visitor in the playoffs to take Game Two away from home when Tina Charles’ jump shot at the start of the final period gave the Sun a hefty 53-44 lead.

The differential was not large enough, however, to withstand Atlanta’s 25-11 run down the stretch.

“It doesn’t seem to bother us,” Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said about the Dream’s ability to rally. “I’ll tell you what, get us to the fourth quarter and we’re pretty good. It was all about or defense, and it wasn’t anything the coaches were saying.”

McCoughtry was around for the whole second half when she scored all 12 of her points. That seemed to be a popular number Sunday with Atlanta because former Duke star Lindsey Harding, Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza also had 12 points, each, for the Dream.

Rebounding—and sending Atlanta to the line—were two fears of Connecticut coach Mike Thibault at the outset of the series even though in Charles, the 2010 Rookie of the Year, he has the chairwoman of the backboards in the WNBA.

Both areas were prominent in Connecticut’s loss Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Things seemed to be in control for the visitors on Sunday through the first three quarters with Connecticut out-rebounding Atlanta 32-29 as Charles grabbed 15.

But then Atlanta defense tightened, holding Charles to just two more boards the rest of the way, though her total of 17 was a playoff record for the franchise, both as the Connecticut Sun and in its previous incarnation as the Orlando Miracle. (The team moved north from Florida in 2003 when the Mohegan Indian Tribe became the owners.)

Atlanta owned the inside in the final period, outscoring Connecticut 12-4 in the paint.

  The Dream also had seven of the game’s final eight rebounds after Atlanta had gone ahead 28-27 with 3:27 left to play as Harding drove through traffic to score.

“They’re tough inside,” said Connecticut forward Asjha Jones, who had 15 points, while Charles scored 13. “They have post players who are good at blocking out, and they also have post players who can shoot jumpers so that makes matching up a little difficult.”

Losing leads in several games late in the season such as the way it went for Connecticut in the opener and in Atlanta cost the Sun a chance to be the top seed in the East, though they matched Indiana’s record at 21-13.

Connecticut lost the tiebreaker because the Fever won their season series 3-2.

Ball control also bedeviled Connecticut again as the Dream picked up 20 points off 17 Connecticut turnovers. Atlanta committed just 10 miscues of which the Sun converted into eight points.

“We did everything we could defensively,” Thibault summed up his team’s performance. “Our offense gave it back to them.”

A year ago, Atlanta’s Harding had to suffer the same season-ending woes as Connecticut in the semifinals when she was a member of the Washington Mystics, which had set a franchise record with 22 wins, tied New York for the East title and earning the No. 1 seed, only to see its hopes for a title expire in the first round at the hands of the then-fourth-seeded Dream.

The Mystics dealt her to Atlanta just before this season opened.

After Sunday’s win, Harding talked about the balanced attack the Dream present even when McCoughtry, the 2009 Rookie of the Year out of Louisville, is pouring in 30 plus points as she did several times down the stretch when Atlanta went 17-5 after its 3-9 start.

“It makes it extremely hard to stop a team when it’s like, `Who’s going to score?’ I love being part of it, and sharing the ball.”

The “Other” Semifinal: It’s All on the Line for the Liberty and the Fever

Will Conseco Fieldhouse be the court of surprises in the deciding Game Three of the Indiana-New York series Monday night as it was five months ago in the NCAA Women’s Final Four?

That’s when Texas A&M upset Stanford, Notre Dame shocked Connecticut, and then Aggies edged the Irish for their first national title.

Or will it simply be home sweet home for the Indiana Fever, looking to avenge last season’s semifinal ouster by the Liberty in Game Three a year after the Fever had advanced to the championship series, narrowly losing to the Phoenix Mercury in Game Five.

In Thursday’s opener Indiana jumped to a 15-point lead before a New York rally at the finish led to a tie and that led to Erin Phillips rescuing the Fever 74-72 with a shot just before time expired.

Then on Saturday in the Liberty’s temporary home at the Prudential Center before their finest crowd of the season in Newark, N.J., coach John Whisenant’s group clicked most of the way to a lopsided 87-72 victory that wasn’t even as close as the final score would have it appear.

During the season the teams split their series 2-2 with each winning a game on the other’s court.

To hear Liberty All-Star Cappie Pondexter tell it, neither game played to date is much of an indicator of what may happen Monday night to determine who moves on to play Atlanta Thursday in the Eastern finals.

“In the playoffs, every game is different and you can’t focus on what happened,” said Pondexter, a former Rutgers all-American who played on two WNBA champions with the Phoenix Mercury in 2007 and 2009.

“Now it’s Game Three, which is win or go home. So for us, we have to erase what just happened. We have to come in knowing its Game Three, that’s the most important thing.

“It’s like Coach said, he’ll never ask us to win, he just asks us to play really hard to win. We’re more than capable of beating this team on their home floor. It will take a lot of focus, high-level intensity, and not turn the ball over because they really capitalize on that. I expect them to come out with a great deal of intensity. For us, to win on the road, we have to be able to match that and some.”

They certainly did that Saturday, as Indiana coach Lin Dunn noted in her post-game remarks.

“Their defensive intensity really cost us turnovers,” Dunn said “They were all over us, very aggressive, and when you look at the statistics sheet we actually won the rebounds but gave up 28 points from turnovers. You have to give them credit with their back against the wall. They did what they had to do and we’ll back to Conseco and we will do what we have to do.”

One thing Indiana will have to do is hope Tamika Catchings, the face of the franchise, who has been nursing a sore knee, finds a way to break free. On Saturday, she was held to the two points off a one-of-seven effort from the field.

Catchings said some of that was her fault but also acknowledged the defense on her from former Stanford star Nicole Powell, who paced the Liberty attack with 19 points.

Sentimentalists are pulling for Indiana as Catchings, the former Tennessee All-American, begins to age after spending all 10 of her seasons as a professional with the Fever, who have yet to win the title.

The only things missing from her illustrious resume are a WNBA title and the MVP award.

Former Purdue star Katie Douglas, who is the Fever’s other primary point producer, put up 20 points and afterwards spoke of this year’s reversal after losing Game Two to the Liberty in the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, where the Liberty are playing while Madison Square Garden is undergoing renovations.

“This is why we work so hard to game home-court,” Douglas said. “They came out and took care of business tonight. Am I ready to guarantee anything? I have faith in my teammates that we can regroup, we can rebound and make the necessary adjustments, and make a better effort Monday night.”

Some of that adjusting has to do with handling the defensive schemes of New York’s Whisenant.

“Well, Coach Whisenant brought his White Line defense to the East Coast and I wish he would have left it in the West Coast,” Douglas referred to his previous job as coach-general manager of the former Sacramento Monarchs, whom he guided to the 2005 WNBA title.

Powell was on that team and was the Liberty’s overall No. 1 pick in the dispersal draft of the Monarchs roster after the NBA Sacramento Kings family ownership jettisoned the franchise in the winter of 2009.

“It frustrates you and gets on your nerves,” Douglas said. “They definitely turned it up a notch and we’re going to have to make the necessary adjustments to be ready Monday night.”

Whisenant rarely makes adjustments, which he has stated all summer in his first season with the Liberty as coach-general manager. He said it again Saturday when asked if he changed anything from Thursday’s loss.

“We don’t change. I don’t know how to change, really, and we have to play the same,” Whisenant said. “The only thing is we tried to move the ball more. … It wasn’t anything new, we just emphasized some of the things that we had been doing earlier that we didn’t do very well in Indiana.”



Originally published Mon, September 19, 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
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
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
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.