Commentary

Dream to stick to game plan Tuesday

Originally Published: September 13, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry has gotten stitches in her head and her lip -- those hurt the worst -- previously in her career during basketball games. Once in a college contest while at Louisville, she had to get nine stitches over her eye, and you can still see the scar.

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Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty ImagesAngel McCoughtry says the Dream were "a little hesitant on offense" and allowed Seattle to get "some easy buckets" in Game 1.

So she wasn't worried about being physically able to come back into Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday after a second-half collision with Seattle's Jana Vesela left her with a cut on her forehead. Just sew it up and get it over with, McCoughtry thought. Her only concern was the clock ticking down in the game.

"Every time I'd hear the crowd yell, I'd say, 'Oh, my gosh, hurry up,'" McCoughtry said.

Teammate Iziane Castro Marques, who went over to McCoughtry when she was still on the court, at first had figured everything was fine.

"I thought she was just a little dizzy for a moment," Castro Marques said. "Then I saw the cut, and that it was really deep. And then I was really nervous. I thought she was out for the game.

"But she's very tough. And she even wanted to stay in the game and not get the stitches done. We're very proud that she could help us be in the game until the end."

Indeed, McCoughtry did return and even took the final shot, a 3-pointer that would have won the game had it fallen. Instead, the Dream lost 79-77 and now must try to gain a split in the series by handing the Storm their first loss at KeyArena this season in Tuesday's Game 2 (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).

When asked what she'd need to do Tuesday, McCoughtry gave an initial three-phrase response, almost as if answering in a kind of basketball haiku:

Just gotta stay out of foul trouble
Try to stay on the floor as much as possible.
Help the team win.

All things considered, it was no surprise that she wasn't up for much pleasant chatter Monday. And while her answers got more expansive, her expression rarely changed.

McCoughtry didn't have a big headache, but she'd most certainly had days when she felt a lot better. She wasn't overly worried about losing Game 1, but McCoughtry is eager to bounce back and go home to Atlanta with some momentum.

"She has been very focused and very intense," Dream coach Marynell Meadors said. "She is such a competitor that sometimes she reaches a point where she tries too hard. That's just youth -- she's 24 years old, and we're asking her to do a lot of things that 30-year-olds do.

"She's really come a long way this season, has matured tremendously with the leadership of our team and how she approaches things. That's really come the last half of the season, and especially in the playoffs."

Even though she only played 21 minutes on Sunday, McCoughtry still finished with 19 points. In the Dream's five postseason games, she is averaging 26.2 points. She was named to the all-WNBA second team Monday.

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Terrence Vaccaro/Getty ImagesSue Bird and the Seattle Storm are 20-0 at KeyArena this season.

As she analyzed Sunday's game, McCoughtry also spoke about what has to be different for Tuesday.

"We got off to a slow start, rebounding-wise, and then the game was called pretty tight," she said. "So there wasn't a lot of running like we wanted to do. We know that we have to get out and rebound early to get more transition buckets."

The Dream were hampered by McCoughtry spending so much of the first half on the bench, but she wasn't the only player in foul trouble. So was Seattle's Swin Cash, who played just more than 19 minutes.

"It was tough. If we wouldn't have pulled that game out, I don't even know what I'd be thinking right now," Cash said. "But one thing I know about the Finals is every game is different. You never know what to expect, and [Game 1] was a big surprise for me in regard to fouls.

"This game, I just have to go in knowing that I'm going to stay aggressive, but maybe if I get the first or second [foul] call, I'll make a quicker adjustment."

Or maybe the game won't be called as tightly on McCoughtry and Cash. The Storm don't necessarily expect the Dream game plan to change a whole lot, because what Atlanta did Sunday was almost good enough for a victory.

"They may try to get more aggressive on the defensive end and come up with more steals," Cash said. "That fuels their transition game. So I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to trap more on the pick-and-roll or double-team down low. But what we have to do is get better execution and be able to pick them apart. Make them pay for gambling."

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Terrence Vaccaro/Getty ImagesAngel McCoughtry says the Dream must rebound and get in transition more often in Game 2.

McCoughtry respects Seattle and understands that KeyArena will once again be very loud in support of the Storm on Tuesday.

"Our concern is us," she said. "What we know we can do. We know we didn't play as well as we should have. We didn't play badly, but we didn't play awesome. We have to clean up a couple of things. We were a little hesitant on offense, and defensively they got some easy buckets."

She said the Dream have to make it even harder for Lauren Jackson to have any room to breath (although that might mean, um, actually sitting on her, which would probably cause more Dream foul trouble).

Jackson's 26 points -- 14 coming in the third quarter -- really hurt Atlanta on a day when the pace wasn't quite as frenetic as the Dream want it to be.

"I think we let her feel too comfortable," McCoughtry said. "In these situations, the key player can't feel comfortable. We helped off her too much. We need to face-guard her. I feel like if it's tough for me to score and do the things I want to do, then it should be tough for her, too.

"I think our team, overall, did a great job. But I wish I would have hit some of my easy jumpers down the stretch; that would have helped us."

As it was, McCoughtry did a lot even with the obstacles she faced. But she's hoping not to hear many whistles directed at her or see any needles headed her way Tuesday. Just dealing with the Storm is enough.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.