The Atlanta Dream and the Indiana Fever will play the back end of a two-game, home-and-home series when they square off Saturday for the second time in three nights at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis.
The Dream won Thursday night’s home game against the Fever 72-67 as Tiffany Hayes scored 23 points, going 11 of 15 from the free-throw line. Angel McCoughtry had 16 points and Jessica Breland grabbed 13 rebounds for Atlanta (6-4).
Indiana remains winless, falling to a franchise-worst 0-10 start despite 17 points from Candace Dupree, 13 each from Victoria Vivens and Tiffany Mitchell, and 10 points from Natalie Achonwa. Erica Wheeler, playing in the 100th game of her career, finished with a game- and career-high 10 assists.
The Fever, as they have in five of their 10 losses this season, led going into the fourth quarter but could not come up with the plays they needed down the stretch.
“I keep telling them we’re close,” Indiana coach Pokey Chatman said about her team’s failure to claim its first victory. “We’ve had a couple of overtime games and a couple other one-opportunity games, all against quality teams. You don’t get much closer than that. Our job is to make sure to keep the players ready for that moment.”
Indiana’s 10-game losing streak ties a franchise worst.
Kelsey Mitchell, Indiana’s standout rookie, had her worst game as a professional, scoring just two points on 1 of 12 shooting overall and 0 of 5 from 3-point range.
“It makes it hard when she feels like she’s repeating herself,” Achonwa said of Chatman’s message after the game. “It’s how you take on tomorrow and how do we learn from today and get better. We’ll see how we respond from this. We’ve got to keep fighting to get that win.”
The Dream, despite traveling cross country after a game in Los Angeles late Tuesday, won for the fourth time in five games and captured their third straight in the series over Indiana. Atlanta and Indiana have now played 41 times, with the Dream winning 21 of them.
Averaging a team-high 19.0 points this year, Hayes has topped 2,500 career points during her six-year career in the WNBA. She has six 20-plus games in 2018 through 10 outings.
Hayes has also shown the ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line. She is attempting 7.0 per game, which ranks fourth in the WNBA. She tied the Atlanta franchise record for attempts in one quarter with 12 in the first quarter against Indiana on Thursday.
“I was drafted to this team in 2012, and it is part of my job to work with our younger players and teach them how to play the right way,” Hayes said in an interview on Friday. “I think I’ve gotten better every year that I’ve been on this team, but I’m still learning.”
Coach Nicki Collen has preached defense since she took over the Dream this offseason, and her approach is starting to show. Atlanta is second in the WNBA in points allowed at 75.7 per game.
Atlanta has not swept a back-to-back series since defeating Connecticut on Aug. 23, 2015, and Aug. 25, 2015.