The Rise of Angel McCoughtry

Sep 18 2010 3:11PM
If you didn�t know who Angel McCoughtry was before the start of the 2010 WNBA season, then you definitely know who she is now.

In just two short seasons Atlanta�s McCoughtry went from being a number one draft pick earning 21.6 minutes per game and averaging 12.8 points per in 2009, to a full-fledged starter picking up 30.7 minutes per game and averaging 21.1 ppg, good enough for third overall in scoring.

The 2009 Rookie of the Year emerged this season as a leader of the Dream, both on and off the court. Although she may at times come off as a soft spoken individual, McCoughtry lets the swish of the basket do all the talking for her. For teammates and coaches of the Dream to notice this development is one thing, but when others around the league are turning heads and applauding her efforts, there�s little doubt that McCoughtry has arrived for good.

�It�s pretty evident what her future holds,� said Storm guard and McCoughtry�s USA Basketball teammate Sue Bird following Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. �She�s going to be a great player in this league. She already is a great player in this league. She�s really hard to stop, and I think as she gets older she�ll get more experience.�

�The sky�s the limit for her,� Bird added.

If a seven-time All-Star and two-time champion like Bird is taking notice, then who is the rest of the league to argue? But if evidence is needed to further prove the point, then this postseason alone is enough to emphasize the point.

Entering the 2010 WNBA playoffs as the No. 4 seed left the Dream with a set of challenges right off the bat. They�d ultimately start every playoff series on the road and would have to go up against the No. 1 seed Washington Mystics right out of the gate.

Throughout the season and well into the postseason, Dream head coach Marynell Meadors made it very clear that this team does not back down or give up one bit. Whatever was said in the locker room or ingrained in the minds of the Dream, it worked, as Atlanta went on to sweep the Mystics in the best-of-three series to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. In the Washington series McCoughtry averaged 24.5 points and seven rebounds per game, nearly three points and two rebounds better than her regular season averages.

When the Dream faced the New York Liberty in the next round, McCoughtry�s individual performance was once again nothing short of spectacular. In Game 1 McCoughtry struggled a bit from the field on 4-of-15 shooting but did her damage at the line, nailing 13-of-17 free throws for 21 points en route to an 81-75 win. But it was Game 2 back home at Philips Arena that would etch the name �Angel McCoughtry� into the record books.

McCoughtry�s 42 points on 12-of-20 shooting set a new WNBA single-game playoffs scoring record, as the Dream went on to beat the Liberty 105-93 to advance to the WNBA Finals and take on the Seattle Storm in a best-of-five series.

Heading into the Finals, Coach Brian Agler and the Storm made it a point to not ignore McCoughtry. At this stage, and based on the damage she�d done up to that round, how could you? As the Storm showed throughout the championship run, a tough, physical defense was used to combat the high-flying, up-tempo Dream offense. For McCoughtry, that got under her skin early, as she found herself in foul trouble in Game 1, registering three in the first quarter alone. She�d later return in the third quarter to close out the game with 21 minutes and 19 points, but watched a potential game-winning, buzzer-beating three pointer bank off the rim to give Seattle the win.

�I thought I was going to nail this one,� she said in practice the next day. �It felt good, it looked good, but it�s one of those situations where it either goes in or it doesn�t.�

Game 2 remained at KeyArena in Seattle, but once again the Dream fell short by the final of 87-84. The nail-biting finish saw McCoughtry finish with 21 points and 9 rebounds, but her 7-of-23 was something she touched on prior to Game 3.

�I know I struggled a little bit but it was tough,� she said following Game 2. �We played well until the end. We haven�t been giving up. But coach said it�s the heart of the champion, and I�m excited to get back to Atlanta and play in front of our fans.�

The stage was set at Philips Arena in Atlanta for the Dream to use home-court advantage to try and push the series back to Seattle for Game 5. Behind the roar of the home crowd, McCoughtry tossed up a series-high and single-game WNBA Finals record 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting but watched the Dream fall short at the end following two missed game-tying threes, one from McCoughtry and the other from Coco Miller.

As the Storm cleared the bench, swarmed the court and celebrated in the moment, McCoughtry fell to her knees and buried her head in her hands. The season was over. The ultimate goal of winning a championship had been so close, yet now remained at least one more season away from becoming a reality.

During the press conference following the game, a dejected McCoughtry took to the podium.

�This is definitely a great learning experience for me being my second year as a professional,� she said. �I just learned, you know, it's a different ball game in the playoffs, it's a new season, it's very physical�every possession matters, and that showed in the Seattle series.�

Chalk it up as a lesson learned for McCoughtry, who in just two seasons emerged as a Rookie of the Year, All-Star and WNBA Finals runner-up. While the latter of those three isn�t always perceived as an accomplishment, it is for a player who still has many more years to claim one or more titles of her own.

Bird said this championship, the first for Seattle since 2004, was �fulfilling� after falling short in the playoffs for five straight seasons. There�s a saying in sports that sometimes you have to lose to win, that you have to experience falling short before you can appreciate winning it all. For McCoughtry, the little accomplishments are starting to add up. With only two seasons under her belt, Bird may very well be on to something when she said the sky is the limit for the 24-year-old Louisville product.

Only time will tell.
Series Info
Game 1: SEA 79, ATL 77: Box | Recap | Photos | Video
Game 2: SEA 87, ATL 84: Box | Recap | Photos | Video
Game 3: SEA 87, ATL 84: Box | Recap | Photos | Video

Gm 1: SEA 82, PHX 74
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: SEA 91, PHX 88
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: SEA 79, LAS 66
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: SEA 81, LAS 66
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: PHX 106, SAN 93
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: PHX 92, SAN 73
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: ATL 81, NYL 75
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: ATL 105, NYL 93
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: ATL 95 WAS 90
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: ATL 101 WAS 77
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: NYL 85, IND 73
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: IND 75, NYL 67
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 3: NYL 77, IND 74
Box | Recap | Photos