Although Angel McCoughtry is one of the WNBA’s top scorers, the Atlanta Dream still need others to step up with two other key players out. They hope Alex Bentley can provide that lift moving forward.
The short-handed Dream will try to snap a four-game road skid against Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday night.
The Dream (11-5) looked like the class of the league with a 10-1 start. But Tiffany Hayes (10.8 ppg) and Sancho Lyttle (14.3 ppg) suffered injuries and haven’t played since June 30 and July 9, respectively, and will still be out Saturday.
Atlanta dropped four in a row from July 9-July 21 — all on the road — including losses at Minnesota and Tulsa by a combined 49 points.
However, the Dream entered the All-Star break feeling slightly better with a 74-65 home win over the Connecticut Sun on July 24. McCoughtry, the league’s second-leading scorer at 20.3 points per game, put together a typical performance with 22 points, but Bentley, who entered averaging 7.7 points, stepped up by matching a season high with 17.
“Alex is really helping our team with Sancho and Tiffany being out, so she’s going to get better and better,” McCoughtry said of the rookie from Penn State. “She’s young and she’s learning the game, but she’s done well so far.”
The break seemed to come at a good time for Phoenix (9-10), which came in with losses in five of six. But even with Griner back after missing five games with a sprained left knee — albeit in limited minutes — the Mercury opened the season’s second half with an 88-79 loss at Seattle on Thursday.
Griner finished with 11 points, four rebounds and four blocks in 18 minutes as she played for the first time since July 7.
“She could only play four minutes a quarter,” coach Corey Gaines said.
DeWanna Bonner had 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while Diana Taurasi was 3 of 10 for 10 points — more than 11 below her league-leading average — and fouled out with 2:59 left.
One of the league’s highest scoring teams at 82.8 points per game, the Mercury have been slowed recently, averaging 75.0 points while losing three in a row.
Atlanta has the league’s second-best defense, limiting opponents to 72.8 points per game. The Dream’s 11.3 steals lead the league, with McCoughtry and Armintie Herrington first and third at 3.3 and 2.6, respectively.
Each team has five wins in the all-time series, though Atlanta won both meetings last season. Bonner averaged 24.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.5 steals for the Mercury.