ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — With their top interior presence back to complement the WNBA’s leading scorer, the Atlanta Dream may be poised to make another push in the second half.
They also may find the Indiana Fever in their way again.
Angel McCoughtry, Erika de Souza and the Dream look to gain ground on the Fever when these Eastern Conference rivals meet Saturday night in Indianapolis.
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Even with McCoughtry’s prolific numbers and the team coming off an appearance in the WNBA finals, Atlanta (10-10) was under .500 before the Olympics, in part because McCoughtry missed six games due to injury.
De Souza wasn’t available at all because she was preparing for the London Games with the Brazilian national team. She rejoined the Dream for their return from the break Friday at Chicago, scoring 19 points to support McCoughtry’s 25 in an 82-76 win.
McCoughtry, averaging 22.8 points, also had eight rebounds, six assists and five steals.
The Fever (11-7) are hopeful they have an inside force to make an impact down the stretch, too. They resumed play Thursday with an 84-66 win over Washington, and their surprising scoring leader was Erlana Larkins, who had a career-high 16 points in just 20 minutes off the bench while grabbing seven rebounds – four at the offensive end.
The forward, who hadn’t played in the WNBA since 2009 before joining Indiana this year, was 4 of 6 from the field and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line, earning high praise from her teammates.
“I think Erlana is the one who’s setting the standard and raising the bar,” guard Erin Phillips told the Fever’s official website. “It’s influencing the whole team.”
Indiana would like to influence Atlanta’s fate in 2012. The Fever were eliminated at home by the Dream in Game 3 of the East finals last year after going 0-4 in the regular-season series.
They’ve won two of the first three meetings this year, although Atlanta took the most recent matchup 70-58 at home June 26, holding Indiana to 30.6 percent shooting.
McCoughtry has tormented the Fever and drawn jeers from the Indianapolis crowd, averaging 23.7 points in her last nine games in the series including playoffs.
Her U.S. Olympic teammate, Indiana’s Tamika Catchings, was limited by plantar fasciitis during last year’s postseason series, but she has averaged 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in her team’s two victories over the Dream this year. The reigning league MVP had 14 points and 14 rebounds Thursday.