Dream star Angel McCoughtry wouldn't say why she was benched just before tip-off of Friday's game, but it didn't matter because when she finally came in, she dominated, leading Atlanta past Los Angeles with a game-high 31 points.
ATLANTA — Angel McCoughtry doesn’t know how long she will come off the bench for the Atlanta Dream.
After scoring 31 points in the Dream’s 92-59 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday night, McCoughtry disputed that she was held out of the starting lineup by coach Marynell Meadors for breaking an unspecified team rule.
“I didn’t violate a team rule,” she told The Associated Press. “I don’t violate team rules.”
McCoughtry’s situation overshadowed a dominant performance by Atlanta, which snapped Los Angeles’ five-game winning streak.
Lindsey Harding finished with 18 points, Sancho Lyttle added 13 and rookie Aneika Henry grabbed nine rebounds for the Dream (4-5), who had lost three of their previous four.
Nneka Ogwumike, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s WNBA draft, finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Sparks (7-2). Los Angeles was off to its best start to a season since 2003, but finished with its biggest defeat since losing by 35 last July 31 at Indiana.
The Sparks did not have a player in double figures until Ogwumike scored her 11th point midway through the fourth.
“Clearly I didn’t have the team ready to play,” said Los Angeles coach Carol Ross, a former Dream assistant coach. “I think we lost this before we played it.”
Candace Parker, whose 20.1 scoring average ranked fifth before the game started, finished with just nine points on 3-for-8 shooting for the Sparks.
Parker, coming off a 33-point, 16-rebound performance in Wednesday’s six-point victory at Connecticut, did not play in the fourth quarter against Atlanta.
“We need to come out with a lot of energy,” Parker said. “We can’t start the way we did because it trickles down the rest of the game. We need to stay aggressive. I think our defense needs to dictate the way we play offensively and not vice versa.”
Lyttle was mostly responsible for limiting how many times Parker, who took only eight shots and had one assist, touched the ball.
“We had our assignments, and if you stick to it, we come to a common goal of winning,” Lyttle said. “Coach said, ‘If you take away the ball from people’s hands, they won’t be able to do what they normally do.’ “
McCoughtry, who played with her left knee heavily wrapped, did not start for the first time this season, but she hit her first four shots from the field to finish the second quarter with 14 points.
She entered the game at the 7:19 mark of the first quarter and played a total of 25 minutes, hitting 11 of 18 shots and going 4 for 5 on 3-point attempts.
Meadors declined to elaborate on what led to McCoughtry’s brief benching. Meadors wouldn’t say whether McCoughtry, the WNBA’s second-leading scorer, will start Sunday when the Dream hosts Connecticut.
“We’ll see,” Meadors said. “It was a violation of team rules, period.”
McCoughtry, who led Atlanta to the WNBA Finals in each of the last two seasons, expects to be in the starting lineup on Sunday.
“Of course,” she said. “I’m a good person. I’m a great leader and I’m going to do everything I can for this team.”
Lyttle’s 10-foot runner early in the third put Atlanta ahead by 25, at the time marking the largest deficit of the season for Los Angeles. The Sparks’ biggest deficit in the game was 39 in the fourth following a layup by McCoughtry.
The Dream, who have won six straight in the series, began the game ranked 10th in field-goal percentage, but finished with a season-best 54.5 percent.
McCoughtry was proud of her teammates’ resolve in easily beating the Western Conference’s second-best club behind defending league champion Minnesota.
“When we came out tonight, we just jelled really well,” McCoughtry said. “Before, it was kind of early. It’s a new team. We’ve been trying to find our chemistry, and tonight kind of broke the ice.”
McCoughtry would not say whether she believes Meadors had a good reason to bench her before tipoff.
“I think it’s no comment,” McCoughtry told The AP. “It shouldn’t be anybody’s business. I’m going to put it like this: I came in tonight and I did what I had to do.”