A week and a half ago, the Atlanta Dream celebrated its third Eastern Conference championship in four years, eliminating the defending champion Indiana Fever in Indianapolis on the shoulders of two-time defending WNBA scoring champion Angel McCoughtry’s 27 points.
The Dream had seven days to bask in the limelight. Then came its recurring nightmare.
Three Finals- three sweeps.
The Dream fell to 0-9 in championship series games,losing as it did in 2011 to the Minnesota Lynx, culminating with Thursday’s 86-77 clincher in Duluth, Ga.
This was after back-to-back 25-point losses in Minneapolis.
“They’re great shooters,” Dream coach Fred Williams said of the Lynx. “They’re great slashers, going to the basket. For us it was kind of tough because we are slashers at getting to the rim, and we didn’t get there enough. That’s been our style of play, and I know in the future, we’ll have to develop that, just like they’ve done over the years to get championships.”
For McCoughtry, her hold as the Finals’ all-time points per game leader dropped below Cynthia Cooper’s as she never scored more than 17 against the Lynx. And it was the same name that has haunted her ever since her collegiate days as a Louisville Cardinal – Maya Moore.
Although McCoughtry and Moore were teammates on the national team that won the World Championship in the Czech Republic and the gold medal in the London Olympics, the newly minted Finals MVP and Connecticut alumna has produced McCoughtry’s biggest heartbreaks.
Before their two WNBA Finals matchups, UConn owned Louisville in two Big East championships (the latter a 75-36 affair) and the 2009 NCAA national championship game. The Huskies won each of the regular season games during their lapse (2007-09), and the Lynx won its first five regular season games against the Dream with Moore until McCoughtry finally broke through with an 88-75 win Aug. 20.
“She was a focus when I was in school,” Moore said of McCoughtry. “She was two years older than me, so we played them my freshman and sophomore year, and she was just coming into being who she is now as far as just the dominant scorer. We knew she could get to the hole, but she started to shoot the ball much better, and I didn’t guard her the most. I’d say Kalana Greene guarded her more because I was the four mainly in college, so now as a three, I’m getting more time to guard her. You just really have to move your feet.”
If there were two positives to take away from Thursday’s final game they were Tiffany Hayes and Alex Bentley. Hayes scored 20 with four three pointers, as the second-year guard from Connecticut blossomed into a starter who averages double figures per game. Bentley, the rookie point guard from Penn State, had been averaging four points in the playoffs but had no intimidation of the moment, pouring in 18, one off her career high.
Next season, the Dream will also welcome the return of 6-foot-4 forward Sancho Lyttle, who hasn’t played since fracturing her foot July 9 at Minnesota. She averaged a career-best 14 points and also grabbed seven rebounds per game for the Dream in 2012.
“We believe we can win a championship,” McCoughtry said. “We still believe for next year, too. That’s just the type of team we are. We’re always going to have that fire.”