The Atlanta Dream’s defensive pressure and mental toughness on display in their convincing 81-63 win over the Chicago Sky Wednesday proves the team is headed in the right direction under coach Nicki Collen.
After the team’s first win under Collen, the first-time head coach said she was proud of how the team shook off Sunday’s 101-78 loss to the Dallas Wings and worked toward better defensive execution.
“After giving 101 points up to Dallas in our opener, it was really important for us to really hit first and emphasize defense in this game,” Collen said Wednesday. “I think we really set the tone defensively.”
The Dream allowed to Sky to shoot 36.8 percent from the field and 3-of-14 beyond the arc in their first loss of the season and limited lead scorer Allie Quigley, who averaged 20.5 points in the Sky’s first two games, to 13 points. Quigley was the only Sky player to score in double-digits against the Dream.
The Dream were also more aggressive when it came to rebounding, grabbing 29 defensive and 42 total rebounds compared to the Sky’s 28 off the backboard.
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While Collen and players spent most of the postgame press conference Wednesday discussing the defensive transformation on the floor compared to from Sunday’s loss to the Wings, the Dream’s offensive dominance should to be noted.
Seven-year veteran Tiffany Hayes scored a career-high of 22 points, contributing to the Dream’s 46.5 percent shooting percentage from the field and 33.3 percent from the 3-point line— a marked improvement from the 35.6 shooting percentage during the team’s season opener in Dallas.
More than earning their first win of the season, the win over the previously unbeaten Sky provides insight into the mental toughness Collen has built through training camp and the preseason.
The fresh energy Collen brought with her from her time as an assistant with the Connecticut Sun was not only seen as the Dream refused to be intimidated by the Sky after the stinging loss, but in how the team prepared for the game.
Guard Brittney Sykes, in her second year with Atlanta, said the Dream were able to keep a high level of defensive energy Wednesday because of the focus brought to practice the morning after their loss in Dallas.
“I think in practice we get on each other about being that defensive team and being scrappy and being a pest,” Sykes said. “On the court, when we bring it to the games, it’s natural. We’re in help position, we’re scrappy, we’re picking at the ball, we’re being pests with the ball. We’re aggravating teams because nine times out of ten, the other teams are doing that to us, so we have to start being the aggressor.”
After proving they can shake off mistakes and a tough loss in their win over the Sky, the Dream have a chance to redeem Sunday’s 23-point loss as they host the Wings Saturday in their home opener.
In Sunday’s win over the Dream, the Wings shot 48.4 percent from the field and were 6-of-17 from the 3-point line. The Wings had five players score in double-digits led by a 25-point performance by guard Skylar Diggins-Smith. Center Liz Cambage also recorded 21 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in Sunday’s win.
The Dream closely matched the Wings scoring in three of four quarters, but a 22-point deficit in the second quarter and the Wings ending Sunday’s game on a 14-2 run sealed the game.
With their first win under their belts and the Wings coming off a 76-68 loss to the Minnesota Lynx— their first loss of the season— Hayes thinks the Dream have reason to feel confident as they take on the Wings for the second time in six days.
“We learned from our mistakes last game,” Hayes said. “We knew that we didn’t match their intensity, we were soft, so they’re definitely going to see a different team when we come and play them.”
The Dream’s tip off against the Wings Saturday at 6 p.m. at McCamish Pavilion.
Ahead of the season opener, the Dream will host a free Tipoff Tailgate Saturday at McCamish Pavilion with food, prizes and activities from 2:30-5 p.m.