Recurring nightmare: Sky rally to thwart Dream, again

The Chicago Sky finally shook the monkey off their backs and returned to their winning ways with a thrilling 71-69 victory over the Atlanta Dream, Sunday at Allstate Arena. Sky center Sylvia Fowles hit two clutch free throws with 33 seconds left and Courtney Vandersloot grabbed a crucial loose-ball rebound and added a free throw of her own to hang on for the win.

The Sky (8-5) ended a four-game losing streak that began when they lost leading scorer Epiphanny Prince in a June 16 matchup against Indiana. They also cooled off the Dream (7-8), who had been sizzling with a three-game winning streak entering Sunday’s contest.

Chicago’s bench came through in a big way to help make up for Prince’s production. Shay Murphy (13 points), Sonja Petrovic (12 points) and Le’coe Willingham (11 points) helped the bench outscore their Atlanta counterparts, 39-11.

Murphy made back-to-back 3-point plays to put the Sky up, 64-59, and Chicago held on to complete a 14-point comeback – an eerily similar scenario to the teams’ first matchup on June 2, when the Sky rallied from 22 down to win in overtime, 94-92. Murphy fired up the team and the crowd, scoring 10 of her 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Chicago harassed Atlanta star Angel McCoughtry, who leads the WNBA in scoring at 22.8 points per game, into just 2-of-9 shooting for six points in the first half. But it was only a matter of time before McCoughtry, who dropped 33 on the Sky in their first meeting, would heat up. The lengthy forward scored eight quick points to spark a 17-3 Atlanta run that broke the game open early in the third quarter. She would finish with a game-high 21, but on 8-of-24 shooting.

The Sky weren’t going to roll over, however, as Willingham nailed back-to-back treys and Petrovic added another from long range and a second jumper just inside the arc to help the Sky get within 50-46 late in the third quarter.

With Atlanta’s starting center, Erika de Souza, in Brazil training with the national team in preparation for the 2012 Olympics, Fowles went to work against rookie Aneika Henry in the paint, tying for a game-high 21 points and hauling in 12 boards. It marked Fowles’ 81st game in a row with double-figure scoring. She needs just a dozen more to break the WNBA record of 92 in a row set by Cynthia Cooper.

Last time the two teams faced, Atlanta forced Chicago into 26 turnovers. This time, the Sky took much better care of the ball, recording just four turnovers in the second half and 15 in all.

Chicago got off to a hot start in the opening quarter, shooting 50 percent from the field and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. Murphy punctuated an 11-2 Chicago run with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer just as the ball left her fingertips to put the Sky up, 19-16.

Dream sharpshooter Cathrine Kraayeveld returned to Chicago for the first time after playing with the Sky last season. She scored six points, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc.

The Sky return to action on Friday, July 6, at home against Cappie Pondexter and the New York Liberty. The game is set for 7:30 p.m.