Zellous makes 17 of 19 free throws in loss

FTs Dont Equal a W

It took a Deanna Nolan-like effort in the second quarter Friday night to put the Shock ahead of the Atlanta Dream, who once led by double digits. Except it wasn’t from Deanna Nolan.

Rookie guard Shavonte Zellous scored 15 of her team-high 25 points in the second quarter, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Dream from their first-ever win over the Shock, 86-80. In her sixth game as a pro, Zellous converted 17 of 19 free throws, setting or tying five franchise records.

“I was just confident and I know my role on the team,” said Zellous, who has flourished after a rough stint in the starting lineup. “I was attacking the basket well and I was capable of going to the free throw line and knocking down the shots. We had open looks but we couldn’t knock them down.”

Trailing 27-17 after the first quarter, Zellous energized a stagnant Detroit offense. She made 11 of 13 free throws, including the first nine in a row. She set new franchise records for free throws made and attempted in a quarter, and tied the previous marks for free throws made and attempted in a half. After halftime, Zellous was a perfect 8-for-8 at the line.

The only comparable performance was on June 28, 2002, when Swin Cash shot 15-for-21 at the free-throw line in an overtime game. Cash’s 21 attempts are the only single-game free-throw team record Zellous didn’t touch Friday.

Besides the Zellous-led 32-point outburst in the second quarter – pulling Detroit within 50-49 at halftime – the offense again struggled to find its flow. The Shock shot 31.1 percent, with just nine assists on its 23 field goals.

Katie Smith opened the game with two 3-pointers in the first 80 seconds to give Detroit a 6-4 lead. But she missed her next six shots, and the Shock didn’t hit another triple until Smith hit two more early in the fourth quarter when they were down 20.

“We got good looks, but we have to knock them down and be more confident when we take shots,” said Smith, who made 5-of-6 from beyond the arc, but was 1-of-9 inside it, finishing with 20 points. “We need to be more aggressive and continue to attack, but tonight was a lot about our defense. We gave up close to 100 points. That’s not going to win us a lot of games.”

Nolan, who averaged a team-high 20.0 points on 51 percent shooting against the Dream last season, was 0-for-4 in the first half and finished with just four points on 2-of-14 shooting.

The Dream regrouped at halftime and once again built a double-digit lead, holding the Shock to just 13 points in the third. “We didn’t attack in the third period,” Shock head coach Rick Mahorn said. “They got a 12-point lead and the next thing you know were back on our heels. It’s frustrating because we weren’t making shots and defensively we have to get stops.”

Dream forward Chamique Holdsclaw scored 10 of her game-high 28 points in the first quarter. She made it look easy, making 10 of 15 shots from the field, underscoring how much Detroit is missing the defense of Plenette Pierson, who it was announced this week is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

“As you know the Shock are known for their defense, and our defense creates our offense, and tonight we didn’t play Shock defense,” Zellous said. “I think we need to get better at that and get ready to play on Sunday.”

Fortunately, Pierson’s predicament notwithstanding, things are looking up for the beleaguered Shock frontcourt. Cheryl Ford played 31 minutes before fouling out Friday, notching 11 points and eight rebounds. And 2007 All-Star center Kara Braxton has now completed her season-opening suspension. She should be back in uniform for Sunday’s home game against Sacramento.

But the injury concerns now turn to the backcourt, where Alexis Hornbuckle – who made her first career start Sunday – did not play after suffering a concussion against the Fever. That forced Mahorn to have his third different starting backcourt in as many games, elevating Kristin Haynie to the starting lineup to face the team she played for in 2008. Haynie, who played just 12 minutes combined in the three games prior, had four points and four steals in 22 minutes.

Clearly Mahorn will make plans to keep Zellous coming off the bench at all costs. In four games as a starter, Zellous scored 30 points and shot 8-for-33. In her last two games as a reserve, she’s scored 38 points on 8-of-17 shooting.

With the victory, the Dream (4-4) matched the win total from their entire inaugural 2008 season, and also defeated the Shock for the first time. The Shock (1-5) fell further into a position the Dream were all too familiar with a year ago – the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The three-time defending conference champions host the league’s only other one-win team – the Sacramento Monarchs – on Sunday.