The Olympic gold medals that Sky players Sylvia Fowles and Swin Cash won in London with the U.S. basketball team were on display Friday at Allstate Arena.
But it was their Olympic teammate, Angel McCoughtry, who wound up giving the most gold medal-like performance of the night.
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McCoughtry led the visiting Atlanta Dream to an 82-76 victory over the Sky by pouring in 25 points to go along with 5 steals, 6 assists and 8 rebounds.
The loss drops the Sky, which was hoping to get back to its winning ways with the return of star guard Epiphanny Prince, to 8-10 and one game behind Atlanta in the Eastern Conference standings. Heading into the game, the teams had been tied for third place.
"I'm just really hungry right now," said McCoughtry, who was the second-leading scorer for Team USA with about 11 points per game in London. "My defense went to another level (in London), the way I play, my hustle. I didn't even know I could do some of the things I was doing over there. If I can do those things over there, I can do them in the WNBA, too."
McCoughtry was able to do her thing despite a very physical undertone on both ends of the floor.
A difference maker for Atlanta was 6-foot-5 center Erika DeSouza, who missed the previous two games in the series (both Sky wins) because she was training with the Brazilian national team in preparation for the Olympics. DeSouza used her size and strength not only to fight her way inside for 19 points but also to pound on Fowles relentlessly. Fowles finished with 13 points but got off only 5 shots and wound up getting a technical late in the game in frustration over contact with DeSouza that wasn't called.
"It was very physical," Fowles said. "It's about being more mentally tough and making the right moves. I just need to be in the game for my team."
Prince was certainly in the game, even more so than the Sky expected her to be.
Sky coach Pokey Chatman planned to manage Prince's minutes closely in her first game back from a broken right foot that has kept her out for the last nine weeks. But Prince looked smooth and comfortable en route to a 16-point effort in 28 minutes. Prince led the Sky in scoring, followed by Fowles and reserve forward Le'coe Willingham, who added 11 points.
"Piph did fine," Chatman said. "I think she'll continue to have a little bit better reaction time defensively. Offensively, her instincts were good. It's just a matter of helping her get her wind."
After a 7-1 start to the season in which Prince led the WNBA in scoring with 24 points per game, the Sky crumbled in her absence. In its next nine games, the Sky picked up eight losses. Yet, still, the Sky was in the playoff hunt at the Olympic break in mid-July.
A win against the Dream would have given the Sky the tiebreaker in the five-game season series, which could be valuable in a tight playoff race at the end of the season. The Sky has two more chances this season to get another win against the Dream, with the next game coming on Wednesday in Atlanta.
"It's very disappointing to get this loss," Fowles said. "But we're going to make sure we do the things we didn't do tonight when we meet up with Atlanta again."