WNBA: Angel Gives Dream Playoff Opener
By Mel Greenberg
WASHINGTON - Angel McCoughtry can be quite a devil on the basketball court -- especially to the folks down here.
Two seasons ago in the NCAA regional finals, her play ruined Maryland's hopes of getting to the Women's Final Four when Louisville upset the Terrapins and advanced to the natonal title game against Big East rival Connecticut.
On Wednesday night the second-year pro named rookie of the year in 2009 led the fourth-seeded Atlanta Dream with 28 points and three steals to a 95-90 victory over the top seeded Washington Mystics in a best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinals playoff opener at the Verizon Center.
The series now moves to Atlanta Friday night and if Washington can't find a way to solve the Dream's athleticism and speed the doors won't be re-opening here Sunday afternoon for a decisive Game 3.
Home court advantage can be several things in the eye of the beholder.
Statisically off the final standings the Mystics earned the right to play more games in their arena in this round if the series goes to distance.
But McCoughtry, hailing from nearby Baltimore, had her own little motivation to be able to play in front of her family and friends.
"I try to play well everywhere I go," McCoughtry, the overall No. 1 pick of the 2009 draft, said with a sheepish smile. "But I was here in front of my family and friends and tried to show them what I can do."
There was a bit of home also for Coco Miller, the former Georgia star guard who was a first round pick of the Mystics in 2001 and was with Washington until May of last season when she was let go and then quickly picked by Atlanta. The Dream are in their third year of existence.
Miller, a surprise starter Wednesday night from coach Marynell Meadors, scored 21 points, as regular Erika DeSouza was relegated to a substitutes role and scored 12 points. Iziane Castro Marques scored 19 points.
"I enjoyed my time here, great fan support, and it felt a little weird to come back and play," said Miller, whose twin sister Kelly is also on the Dream but was sidelined with an ankle injury. "But we just wanted to come here and set the tone from the beginning."
The Miller twins, who led Georgia to a regional fnal in 2000 losing to Rutgers, are from Rochester, Minn.
Though a crowd of 10,322 was listed in the boxscore, the arena quickly became a ghost town of sorts.
The ghost of Mystics' dismal playoff performances past quickly emerged as Atlanta bolted to a 10-1 lead. Washington managed to recover by the end of the quarter but the Dream then turned the place into a nightmare, outscoring the home team 31-14 in the second quarter and leading by as many as 17 points before the Mystics rallied to a two-point deficit late in the game.
"It's hard to come back when you're that far beind," said veteran Katie Smith, who scored 10 points for Washington. "You have to do all that work and then if you get one you have to try to hold on to a lead."
Meadors cited her squad's ability to push tempo for the Dream's success in the second period.
"We were able to get out and run," Meadors said. "Our team is based on speed, quickness, balance and depth and I thought we shared the ball pretty well and pushed the action quite a bit."
Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne, a native of Willingboro, N.J., near Philadelphia, had 16 points for Washington and grabbed nine rebounds. Lindsey Harding scored 14 points but was 5-for-21 from the field running the offense.
Marissa Coleman, another former Maryland star who was on the Terrapins team ousted by Louisville with McCoughtry, scored 18 points off the bench, while Matee Ajavon, a former Rutgers star, scored 16 points as a substitute.
Atlanta had lost six of seven in the Dream's final regular season's games including a blowout most of the way at home Sunday before rallying to lose to the Mystics 90-81.
That game enabled Washington to tie the New York Liberty for first in the East and grab the No. 1 seed, both all-time achievements as was the 22-12 record.
But all that was quickly wiped out by the ghosts of Atlanta's start of the season when the Dream rolled to a 6-0 record and contended for first place heading into the All-Star break.
"It had a wonderful feel to it," Meadors said of Atlanta's attack from the opening tip. "We have to be consistent with that. I thought we did a great job defensively, we did a really good job of defending, rebounding and pushing the basketball.
"I thought we got our running game back, which helps us tremendously."
Meadors, incidentally, will be one of UConn coach Geno Auriemma's assistants next month on the USA Basketball senior national women's team.
She said she made the lineup change, going to four "smalls" because "the starting lineup didn't work Sunday (against the Mystics)."
Mystics coach Julie Plank, whose team was 3-1 against Atlanta during the season, admitted to being surprised by the change.
"I didn't like the start and was very disappointed with our defensive effort," Plank said. "You can't give up 95 points. I don't care if its regular season, definitely not the playoffs.
"Their dribble penetration hurt us a lot. We fouled a lot and they pretty much got whatever they wanted."
As for the Atlanta switch, Plank observed, "Their lineup at the beginning threw us off a bit, we were playing two `bigs,' and they were playing four `littles.' It doesn't matter, we can adjust offensively -- we don't give up 10 points that quickly. Despite the fact that it took a while for our offense to adjust our defense should still be clicking. It was disappointing."
Seattle Stays Perfect At Home
It's not hard to beat a team like the Los Angeles Sparks six times this season, especially if the one delivering the beating is the Seattle Storm, who were perfect at home at 17-0 to tie a WNBA record.
The home conquests were actually one better than Los Angeles' 16-0 effort in 2001 when the WNBA has a 32-game schedule, which is two less than the WNBA scheduling of recent seasons.
For now top-seeded Seattle, who finished at 28-6 and ran away from the West, has extended its home perfection as well as mastery over No. 4 Los Angeles with a 79-66 triumph to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Western Conference semifinals series.
Considering in recent seasons Los Angeles has been the one handing the Storm playoff exit papers, Seattle has a chance to do likewise to the Sparks likewise Saturday when the series resumes in Los Angeles at the Staples Center.
No. 3 San Antonio opens the other Western Conference semifinals series Thursday night at the No. 2 Phoenix Mercury, who are the defending WNBA champions.
Once again UConn DNA was prominent in Seattle's win with former Huskies star Swin Cash scoring 20 points while her former UConn teammate Sue Bird kept togetherness going with nine points and 12 assists running the offense at point guard.
Cash played on two WNBA champions with the former Detroit Shock.
Australian standout Lauren Jackson, one of the frontrunners in the WNBA MVP postseason award competition, had 17 points as the Storm moved to within a game of avoiding a sixth straight dispatch in the first round after winning the title as an underdog in 2004 at Key Arena.
"I don't think we're peaking right now but we're in the best possible place we need to be," Cash said after the game.
Former LSU star Marie Ferdinand-Harris scored 18 points for the Sparks while former Maryland star Kristi Toliver scored 16 points as did veteran Tina Thompson, the last of the players who were on teams in the WNBA inaugural summer of 1997.
While Toliver was suffering defeat with Los Angeles, two of her former Terrapins teammates Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman suffered a first-round setback with No. 1 Washington, which lost at home to No. 4 Atlanta.
In the other game yet to be played, second-seeded New York will open the other Eastern semifinal series Thursday night at home in Madison Square Garden against the defending conference champion Indiana Fever, the third seed in the semifinals.