NEW YORK — Madison Square Garden has always brought the best out of players and on Wednesday afternoon it was Tiffany Hayes’ turn to shine brightest under the Garden’s lights.
Hayes and the Dream entered an 11 a.m. matinee showdown with the Liberty on Wednesday fresh off a thrilling defeat of Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky just two days earlier. An up-and-coming outfit, the Dream were hopeful that a win over the reigning MVP and her championship-contending squad would translate into more success in front of a youthful and exuberant crowd at the Garden.
For Hayes in particular it would be an opportunity to bounce back from what was a quiet home-opening performance two days prior. The task wouldn’t be easy though as she would be going head-to-head with Sugar Rodgers, a supremely athletic guard in her own right who had been one of the main catalysts behind the Liberty’s 2-1 start.
Head coach Michael Cooper stressed before tip that the Dream guards, Hayes in particular, needed to “crash the boards,” Hayes took heed of her coaches pregame pep-talk.
The 5-foot-10 UConn product finished the afternoon with a career-high 11 rebounds and a team-high 27 points in an 85-79 overtime win. While Hayes’ point total was impressive, it was her ability to snag 11 boards with the Liberty’s Tina Charles and Carolyn Swords patrolling the paint that really turned heads on the afternoon.
“Coach was telling the team that us guards have to help rebound, and last game we definitely weren’t doing that so I just had it in mind to go help those post players,” she said postgame.
— Atlanta Dream (@AtlantaDream) May 24, 2016
Cooper said he believes similar performances are in Hayes’ future as she looks to lift the Dream back into playoff contention.
“I talked to Tiffany earlier in preseason and told her she had to step up and we were going to feature her more,” Cooper said. “We want to be a running team and to do that we need to get the ball in her hands. That’s what you saw today.”
Hayes’ ability to run with and without the rock was on full display against the Liberty. Her nonstop energy allowed her to not only secure that career high in rebounds, but also establish a rhythm by getting to the line after nabbing an offensive board. Hayes finished with a game-high 10 free throws made all 10.
Early in her fifth season, the 26-year-old is averaging a career-high 16.5 points, tied with perennial All-Star and backcourt partner Angel McCoughtry for the team lead. Tuesday’s effort may have been more than just a career game for Hayes; it could be a sign of things to come.
“I think at this point in her career and on our team, she could be an All-Star,” said Cooper.