Angel Leads the Way
After a frustrating 2012 season with the Atlanta Dream, Angel McCoughtry made very clear in the offseason what her expectations were for this year.
“Trust me and believe," she told WNBA.com while playing basketball abroad in Turkey. "It’s coming. Real soon. I will win a WNBA Championship. Mentally, after this experience, I’m stronger than ever."
The numbers don't lie, she is. At 21.5 points and 2.7 steals per game this season, McCoughtry led the league in scoring (for the second year in a row) and in steals, making her a major threat on both ends of the floor. But McCoughtry said it's her ability to make players better is what she's tried to step up the most this year.
"You always want to improve your game every year," she said while stretching before a recent game. "I knew I had to work on my passing skills, so I look at things each year I can improve on and sharpen them up."
In seasons past, McCoughtry has often been labeled -- perhaps unfairly -- as a selfish player, hesitant to rely on her teammates in crunchtime situations. But this year she has been anything but that, something Head Coach Fred Williams said McCoughtry was quick to point out.
"She's been a good leader for us throughout the course of this season," he said. "That was something we talked about extensively in the offseason. She's matured a lot as a player, she's emerged as a full-fledged triple threat player getting us steals, points and passing the basketball."
Teammate Tiffany Hayes said McCoughtry's leadership has been the driving force as the Dream prepare for their third WNBA Finals appearance in the past four years.
"I think she motivates us more this year," she said. "She's always led by example, but this year she encourages by being more of a vocal leader and I think that's really been helping us."
Hayes has had a stellar season in her own right and credits a lot of that to Angel's support.
"People see her all the time on the court but a lot of people don't know what kind of leader she is off the court," said Hayes, the second-year southpaw out of UConn. "For me, I can look to her, when I don't know what to do in games and in practice as that support."
McCoughtry is in the prime in her career and already has a decorated list of accomplishments under her belt, including WNBA Rookie of the Year honors, an Olympic Gold Medal and two All-Star appearances. But that coveted WNBA championship is what's missing.
The Minnesota Lynx swept the Atlanta Dream in the 2011 WNBA Finals 3-0. Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said she isn't taking anything for granted in trying to stop McCoughtry.
"I can speak from a coach's perspective, having watched a lot of video, that she [McCoughtry] has amazing athletic gifts that make it very challenging," said Reeve as the 2013 Finals approached. "Despite knowing what you need to do to defend her, it's a challenge to get it done because she is so gifted."
Lynx guard Seimone Augustus went toe-to-toe against McCoughtry in the 2011 Finals and will likely match-up against her in this series. She said it was tough to guard her in that series and anticipates this one being difficult too.
"Angel is going to do things that we don't know what Angel is going to do," she said. "And Angel doesn't know at times what Angel is going to do. So it makes it a lot more difficult at times to guard her."
While McCoughtry has taken her game to new heights this season, the Lynx's Maya Moore has done the same for her squad. All in all, Augustus said the series is going to be one to remember.
"It's going to be a great game," she said. "Two great teams going against each other with two or three of the best players in this league just going head-to-head, playing great basketball."