(Los Angeles, CA.–Staples Center) Game Preview: The Sparks (12-5) anticipated a strong match-up with the Connecticut Sun and their winning overall record of (9-7). In addition, the Sun featured the return this season of their young franchise player in #13 Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka’s younger sister, who came into the contest with a 15.2 ppg average. Chiney missed the entire 2017 season after surgery to her Achilles tendon. Last but not least in this preview, the Sparks were seeking to avenge the opening week loss on 5/24 to the Sun on their home court, (102-94). Today’s game theme: “Take Me Back Tuesday.”
Game Recap: 1st Q–The Sun broke out to the early lead as Rachel Banham and Chiney Ogwumike put up quick points for a (10-6) lead. In a relatively low-scoring period, the score was (14-8) with 3:10 remaining. The Sparks were buoyed by Chelsea Gray’s excellent jump shooting skills. Candace Parker got off to a slow start and was not productive with her early scoring routine in this match-up. Coach Brian Agler inserted Jantel Lavender to make up for the scoring difference. The Sun’s lead was (16-8) at the 2 minute mark. It was (18-8) with :32 seconds remaining and stayed that way to end of the quarter. Of Significance…The Sparks shot a dismal 15% shooting as they made only 2 of 15 shots, one of their poorest and coldest shooting quarters in quite some time. The 1st quarter score was Sun 18, Sparks 8
2nd Q—Essence Carson started the offense rolling with a nice jumper from the top of the key, (18-10) Sun. The Sparks were still cold as they missed shots they normally make. Then coming right back, Carson hit her second jumper from 3 point-land, keeping the lead at 10, (23-13). But the Sun weren’t cold and stayed with the offensive pressure against the semi-alert Sparks. It was (28-15) after two Nneka Ogwumike free throws at the 6:30 mark. Ogwumike came back and hit a twisting left hander in the lane, (28-17, Sun). The lead grew to 18, (35-17) after a Sun basket, forcing Coach Agler to call a time-out with 4:04 left in the half. Everything was going right for the Sun as they kept their foot on the gas. Then after back-to-back baskets by Nneka Ogwumike and Alana Beard, the lead shrunk slightly to 16, (37-21). The Sun lead fell to 14 as Odyssey Sims sank a 15′ jumper from the free throw line, (37-23). With 2 minutes left in the half, Chiney Ogwumike hit a back door lay-up for a (41-23) Sun lead. Alana Beard buried a jumper for the final Sparks score of the half.
HALFTIME SCORE: Sun 41, Sparks 25.
3rd Q––CP3 led off the climb to the top of Mt. Victory with a conventional 3-point play. Chelsea Gray followed with a 3-pointer, cutting the lead to 11, (42-31). Parker then hit a driving lay-up to cut the lead to nine, (42-33). Essence Carson got into the mix by hitting a deep 3-pointer to the huge crowd’s delight, causing the Sun to take a time-out. Score was now (42-36). With their sights now set on catching the Sun, with 6:08, CP3 went to the free throw line for a pair. She made one, now (42-37, Sun). After a Sun put-back hoop, Chelsea Gray hit another 3 pointer, (44-40) with 5:09 left. Chiney Ogwumike drew a foul on her put-back, (46-40). CP3 answered with a short 3′ put-back, (46-42). Parker used a great pivot move in the key for her next score, making (49-44, Sun). Riquna Williams drove in for a score plus an “And-1”, (51-47, Sun) with 1:40 left. Odyssey Sims scored next on an assist from Williams, (51-49). The Sun answered back after a basket by Morgan Tuck plus an “And 1” (54-49). A determined Candace Parker scored on yet another put-back after a miss by Sims, (54-51). All the fans could sense and feel the game drama building as the Sparks fought their way back after trailing by 16 at the half. The period ended with the scoreboard showing Sun 53, Sparks 51.
4th Q–-The Sparks went right back to the attack, as Ogwumike hit a lay-up to open the stanza, 53-53. But a quick 7 points by the Sun put them back up (60-53). The crowd roared its applause again as Ogwumike skied up for a CP3 missed 3 pointer, got the put-back plus the “And-1”, (60-56, Sun), with 7:25 left n the game. Parker hit one free throw after a “Defensive 3” technical foul was called against the Sun. That was followed by a Chelsea Gray jumper, (64-59). A Nneka Ogwumike basket gave the Sparks their 1st lead of the game at (65-64). Then CP3 brought the crowd to its feet with a basket to go up by 3, (67-64). The Sun called a time-out to talk things over with 4:04 left. The Sun failed to capitalize on their set play but the Sparks also failed when Odyssey Sims shot an air ball. The Sun cut it to one, 67-66 then went ahead 68-67 after 2 made free throws. Nneka Ogwumike’s game resurgence gave the Sparks the lead at (69-68). She then came back with :27.9 secs left for an “And 1” tying it at (71-71), then making it (72-71), Sparks. An immediate time-out was taken by the Sun. After the time-out, the Sun ran a set play and from the perimeter worked it in to Chiney Ogwumike who was already camped out in the key. Although Candace Parker vocally protested and gestured with her 3 fingers in the key to the lead official, it went ignored, and Ogwumike then did a reverse pivot to sink a 2′ lay-up, (73-71) with just :18.5 left in the game. Coach Brian Agler then called his final time-out. The ball was inbounded and Chelsea Gray tried to dribble around Candace Parker for a screen and drive but it never fully developed, so from the free throw line extended and in front of her bench, she then drove baseline where she was forced out of bounds by Chiney Ogwumike. No call was made and the Sparks turned the ball over with :03.25 seconds. After the Sun took a time-out, they unexpectedly turned the ball over on their throw in pass. Nneka Ogwumike recovered it and then launched a nicely targeted, but still a desperation shot from just 5′ inside the half-court line. To her skilled credit, she nearly banked it in from a long 30 degree left angle to the basket. After just a momentary hushed silence from the disappointed crowd, the horn sounded and it was game over.
FINAL SCORE: Sun 73, Sparks 72. Game Attendance: 6,280
Sparks Game Stat-Line: Nneka Ogwumike/20 pts/5 rebs/1 steal; Candace Parker/17 pts/6 rebs/4 assts/4 steals; Chelsea Gray/12 pts/4 rebs/2 assts/1 steal; Alana Beard/8 pts/2 rebs/1 assts/3 steals/1 blocked shot; Essence Carson/8 pts/2-3 3 PtFGA.
The Sparks are now (12-6) overall and the CT Sun move to (10-7).
Photo Gallery: Anthony Ramirez, East L.A. Sports Scene Productions
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