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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Will Foreign Affairs Prove to Be a Nightmare for the Dream in the East Semis?

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Photo Caption: Can Atlanta do more with less? The Dream are already down one game in their best-of-three Eastern Conference Finals series with the Indiana Fever, and now, to avoid elimination and keep their title hopes alive, they must find a way to replace the production of starting center Erika de Souza. De Souza has returned to Brazil to help her National Team in the hunt for an Olympic berth in the FIBA Americas tournament. She could be gone for a week.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

By Mel Greenberg

Foreign affairs have become a nightmare for the Atlanta Dream, who will have their backs to the wall in the battle to keep their postseason alive when they meet the Indiana Fever on Sunday afternoon in the Dream’s Philips Arena in Game Two of the WNBA’s Eastern Conference finals.

For the second time this season, Atlanta will be facing the fallout, as one of its foreign players heads off to play for her national team in an Olympic qualifying tournament. The Dream announced Saturday that center Erika De Souza has left to join her Brazilian national team to compete in the FIBA Americas for Women Championship in Colombia.

And it could have been worse: Atlanta’s Iziane Castro Marques also plays for the Brazilian National Team, but made the tough decision to stay with the Dream, possibly leaving Brazil in the lurch.

While Atlanta said De Souza would return upon conclusion of Brazil’s participation in the tournament, the Dream may very have finished all their post-mortem exit interviews by then. To avoid that, the rest of the team must rally enough to take Game Two in Atlanta on Sunday, force a third game back in Indiana and upset the Fever on their home court, and return to the WNBA Finals for a second straight season.

The tournament in South America began Saturday and will last a week for national teams who go the distance.

If there’s a Game Three in the East, it will be played Tuesday.

The best-of-five WNBA championship begins Sunday either in Minneapolis if the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx win the Western playoffs or in Atlanta or Indianapolis if the third-seeded Mercury pull an upset to emerge the victors in the West after losing their opener Thursday night in Minneapolis. Game Two in the West tips off in Phoenix on Sunday afternoon.

Phoenix and Indiana both advanced to the WNBA Finals in 2009 with the Mercury rallying from a 2-1 deficit to beat the Fever on the road and then edge Indiana back in Arizona to win a second title.

The Fever and Lynx have never won titles nor has the Dream, whose advancement to play against Seattle in the 2010 finals occurred in Atlanta’s third season in franchise history.

The 6-foot-5 De Souza started and played in 32 of 34 games in the regular season for Atlanta, averaging 11.8 points per game, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocked shots.

Coming off the Dream’s 2-0 sweep of the Connecticut Sun in the conference semifinals, De Souza was averaging 12 points and one rebound in Atlanta’s three playoff games to date.

Indiana, which hadn’t beaten Atlanta in four closely-fought games during the regular season, took Game One at home, 82-74, in the best-of-three series at Conseco Fieldhouse where De Souza had eight points and 13 rebounds for Atlanta.

With De Souza gone, the Dream are left with a committee of post players to fill the void in former Duke star Alison Bales, former TCU star Sandora Irvin and former Oklahoma star Courtney Paris, who was signed as a free agent early in the season.

The Dream, who were expected to contend for the title, struggled to a 3-9 start back in June and early July, in part because of injuries to such notables as team leader Angel McCoughtry but also because forward-center Sancho Lyttle had to join up with the Spanish national team in Eurobasket Women 2011, another Olympic qualifying tournament. At the time, Lyttle was projected to miss six WNBA games.

However, by the time she returned from Europe, Lyttle, who recently signed a multi-year contract extension with Atlanta, missed six more games with back problems. Once she and several others recovered and the lineup got acclimated to point guard Lindsey Harding, the former Duke star newly arrived in Atlanta this season thanks to a trade with the Washington Mystics, the Dream took off on a 17-5 run the rest of the way to slip past the New York Liberty with the third seed in the conference portion of the tournament.

This time around, the need to replace De Souza will further shorten an Atlanta bench that is already down one due to the injury of point guard Shalee Lehning. The adverse impact of injuries and other absences can cut deep with a WNBA roster capped at 11 players.

Matters aren’t helped for Atlanta if veteran forward Tangela Smith, who signed as a free agent formerly with the Phoenix Mercury, repeats as a third weapon for the Fever alongside newly crowned WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings and forward Katie Douglas.

Smith set a Fever record in the playoffs in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals, hitting five-of-seven three-pointers and scoring 25 points.

McCoughtry was held to 11 points for Atlanta and played just 17 minutes because of foul trouble and on the Fever end; Indiana thrived on the line by connecting on 23-of-27 free throws.

With four players on the Fever roster in their 30s – Catchings, Smith, Douglas, and former Rutgers star center Tammy Sutton-Brown – Indiana believes there’s no time like the present to win that elusive title, especially since Catchings ended her 10-year career drought in winning the MVP award on Thursday.

However, on Atlanta’s side, with De Souza gone, there may be no time left—period—until next year unless the Dream have a few more rallies in their arsenal.


Originally published Sun, September 25, 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
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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.