(Los Angeles, CA, Staples Center) Game Preview: The Sparks (9-3) came home from a brief one game road trip and a huge defeat on their record suffered at the hands of the Dallas Wings (101-72), on Friday, 6/22. The next home opponent, the New York Liberty came into L.A. with a subpar (4-7) overall record this past Sunday. Nonetheless, the Sparks were expecting a tough match-up with veteran 5x All-WNBA 1st Team, 5x All-Star, 4x Leading Rebounder, 2012 Scoring Champion and 2x NCAA Champion (UCONN Huskies), Tina Charles, leading her charges into Staples Center. The Liberty were certainly eager for a good road win over a top-tiered team.
And, Sunday’s game theme for the 9,203 in attendance was: “Spark the Conversation: The Inaugural Mental Health Awareness Day” produced in partnership with the L.A. County Mental Health Department. A unique “All Game-Day” public service effort promoting yoga and meditation techniques was offered to the huge fanbase who came out to support their team. Sparks President and COO Christine Simmons said, “Sunday’s event is about dismantling negative stigmas surrounding mental illness as well as providing health and wellness techniques to cope with conditions such as stress, anxiety, PTSD and depression.”
Next Up: The Dallas Wings, (6-6) who are led by Guard, Skylar Diggins-Smith (19.2 ppg) and Center, Liz Cambage, (20.0 ppg) come in on Tuesday, 6/26 for a rematch from their victory last Friday, 6/24. Much was learned from that bad encounter and the Sparks will be looking to avenge that defeat as well as maintaining home court advantage with a big home court win. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 pm.
Liberty Game Recap: 1st Q–The Sparks flew out to a 9-2 lead thanks to Candace Parker’s quick 5 points and Nekka Ogwumike’s 4. The “one-two” punch were in Home game form to get the Sparks rolling. Then, Essence Carson, inserted by Head Coach Brian Agler into the starting line-up for Odyssey Sims, hit her first shot of the game making it 11-2. At the 3:04 minute left in the period, the score was 13-7, Sparks after a 5-0 Liberty run. The teams traded baskets as the clock ran down, and by the 1:08 mark, it was the Sparks by six, 16-10. At the end of the stanza, it was (18-12) Sparks. Of significance…Coach Agler’s insertion of Essence Carson into the starting line-up for height match-up purposes.
2nd Q–Jantel Lavender got things started for the Sparks as she hit “back-to-back” jumpers. But the Liberty’s Sugar Rodgers kept them close with her offensive spurt. Nneka Ogwumike maintained a strong presence in the paint as she scored on fine interior passes from her guards. Tina Charles & Amanda Zahui B also put up points with their own spurts as they sought to keep pace with their opponents. The score was close, 25-23, at the 6:15 mark. Then after a time-out, Candace Parker & Essence Carson teamed up for a 4-point spurt to boost the lead to six, 29-23. Then super sub, Riquna Williams hit a 3-pointer for a nine point lead, 32-23. After two defensive rebounds by Ogwumike and Parker, Williams struck again with another “picture-perfect” 3 pointer, 35-23 with 2 minutes left. After two Lavender free throws, she then hit a jumper from the left corner, keeping the lead at 12. Riquna, now in her “shooter’s zone“ hit her third 3-ball from the left corner, moving the score to 40-25. But Tina Charles hit a put-back cutting the lead to 13, 40-27. Williams would end up her dazzling second quarter offensive display with her 4th 3-pointer, leaving her fans and the crowd in a frenzy while all appreciated seeing her “On-fire!!”
HALFTIME SCORE: Sparks 43, Liberty 27.
3rd Q–The Liberty scored first, 43-29. Tina Charles then hit her first shot of the half, 43-31. That was followed by a Chelsea Gray banker from the left side. She drew a foul for an “And-1.” She completed the 3-point play for a 15 point advantage. After Nekka Ogwumike hit a lay-up, the rout was on with a huge 17 point lead in their favor. The Liberty’s Bria Hartley hit a 3 pointer, making it 48-34. Essence Carson answered with a floater in the key for a 59-24. lead. Chelsea Gray was fouled hard in transition and drew 2 free throws. She hit both for an 18 point advantage, 52-34. Gray, on her 11th assist of the game found Ogwumike underneath for a 20 point lead with 4:12 left. Coach Agler then subbed in Maria Vadeeva, giving Ogwumike a breather. Riquna Williams then hit a 5′ shooter’s touch floater, for a 56-34 lead. Still in full attack mode, Odyssey Sims threw a 50′ pass to an unguarded Candace Parker, well downcourt, for a lay-up. Fouled on her made field goal, she converted her free throw for a 59-36 lead. With 1:44 left in the period and a 23 point advantage, New York’s Amanda Zahui B hit a 3- pointer, 59-39. And with :45.5 secs left, Parker drew a shooting foul underneath and made both free throws for a 61-39 lead. A Brittany Boyd/Liberty lay-up at the end of the period narrowed the lead to an even 20 at 61-41.
4th Q–Riquna Williams went back to work and hit her 5th clean swisher from 3 point-land to start the period, 64-41. And not letting up one bit, she confidently hit her sixth triple of the game giving the Sparks the lead at 67-41. Then a time-out was taken by the Sparks with 7:23 left in game. It was just enough time for the Sparks to get a stop and then continue to watch their teammate’s amazing shooting skills up close and personal, as she came back with her seventh 3-pointer. She then stole a pass and went uncontested for a lay-up for her 25th point of the game. Jantel Lavender hit her patented jumper for 74-46 lead. Karlie Samuelson, Maria Vadeeva, Cappie Pondexter, Essence Carson, and Jantel Lavender were all in the game at the 5 minute mark. Vadeeva drew a nice crowd response when she hit a 3-pointer for a 77-48 lead with 3:43 left. Vadeeva came right back for an assist to Essence Carson on a nice “give-and-go” for a 79-52 margin with 1:45 left. Cappie Pondexter got into the scoring column with just 1:11 on the clock when she was fouled on her 3-point attempt. She converted only one her 3 free throws moving the score to 80-53. The final point of the game came on the Liberty’s Kia Nurse making just one of two free throws. Of significance—consistent defensive pressure and rebounding.
FINAL SCORE: Sparks 80, Liberty 54. The win moved the Sparks record to 10-3.
Sparks Game Statline: Riquna Williams/25 pts/9-11 FGs/7-9 3 Pt. FGAs/1 reb/3 steals/14:39 mins; Candace Parker/15 pts/7 rebs/6 assts/1 steal/2 blocked shots; Nneka Ogwumike/12 pts/10 rebs “double-double”/1 asst/1 steal/1 blocked shot; Essence Carson/8 pts/3 rebs/1 steal; Jantel Lavender/8 pts/2 rebs/2 assts; and Chelsea Gray/7 pts/3 rebs/11 assts*/1 steal
Photo Gallery: Anthony Ramirez, East L.A. Sports Scene Productions