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updated: 8/10/2014 11:13 PM

Big second half as Sky dominates Atlanta

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Because she was busy at training camp, Sky rookie point guard Jamierra Faulkner missed her graduation ceremonies in May at Southern Mississippi.

So Southern Mississippi brought graduation to Faulkner.

The president of the school, along with the athletic director and Faulkner's basketball coach, attended Sunday's Sky game at Allstate Arena to deliver her diploma during a halftime ceremony.

Faulkner went on to finish with 14 points, 6 assists and 3 steals to help the Sky "school" the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Dream, 80-69.

"I'm the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year college," Faulkner said with a smile. "That feels really good."

The feel-good victory over Atlanta, which played without top scorer Angel McCoughtry (tendinitis in both feet), keeps the Sky in the race for the WNBA playoffs. The top four teams in each conference make the playoffs. At 14-17, the Sky now sits in third place in the East. The Indiana Fever has the same record, but the Sky owns the tiebreaker with a better conference record than the Fever.

After the game, Sky coach Pokey Chatman had a request for her newly matriculated point guard: "Could you graduate on Wednesday, too … and Saturday and Sunday?"

Those are the days of the team's final three games, which it needs to win to guarantee a playoff spot. The Sky, which erased a 4-point halftime deficit by outscoring Atlanta 48-33 in the second half, is seeking its second straight playoff berth after making the postseason for the first time last year.

"Despite tough losses, despite all the injuries (the Sky has still not played a game with its full roster available), we're still talking about the playoffs. We're not talking about next year," said Chatman, who has been without all five starters for multiple games this season. "It's nice to have the pieces come to pass at a crucial time."

The Sky is getting close to putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. Starting point guard Courtney Vandersloot, one of the WNBA's top playmakers and now the only injured player on the Sky roster, should be returning to the rotation soon. She is entering Week 7 of a six-to-10 week rehab of an injured knee and has been active in practice, completing noncontact drills.

"I don't gamble, but if I did, I'd say it's really good odds (of the entire team being intact before the end of the regular season). (Vandersloot) is close," Chatman said. "They deserve to all be together when it matters the most."

Besides Faulkner, the Sky got double-figures from four other players, led by Allie Quigley's 17 points off the bench. Leading scorer Elena Delle Donne scored 15 points off the bench, and Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince added 13 points apiece.

Atlanta, which has lost its last five games and nine of its last 11, remains atop the Eastern Conference at 17-14. The Dream has a two-game lead over Washington. Forward Sancho Lyttle paced Atlanta in scoring with 16 points. Rookie guard Shoni Schimmel had 15 points off the bench, all on 3-pointers.

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