Los Angeles, CA – Returning from a three game road trip, winning their last two, the Sparks had everything going for them as they faced the lowly Dallas Wings. However, two key pieces were out of the lineup. Candace Parker was a no show favoring her ankle, and Riquna Williams was laid down a 10 game suspension following an April arrest for a domestic violence charge last year.
With Riquna out especially, the Sparks offense lacked some structure.This meant it was Nneka Ogwumike to the rescue. Her third quarter surge helped the Sparks erase a big deficit in the first half during a 69-64 win that extends their winning streak.
“In the first half there were variables that did not allow us to play as intensely as we could have,” Nkeka said. “We are also experiencing things that will hinder our performance. We were not focused in the first 20 minutes. Our defense fueled our offense later and that was a big difference.”
Aside from Nneka’s third quarter performance, the Sparks changed their strategy in the final 20 minutes, controlling the tempo on the offensive end. They managed 16 second half points in the paint, which also allowed them to head to the line 14 times. It became the difference as Dallas finished the second half on just 23% shooting.
Keeping things close throughout the first, Dallas’s 8-0 run made the Sparks look lethargic on both sides of the ball in the first half. Los Angeles had no control of the Wings’s inside game, as well as struggling to find any kind of offensive rhythm. Dallas managed to go up 16 at one point before the Sparks closed the gap to 10 by halftime.
Head coach Derek Fisher loud and clear let the team know his thoughts on the first half.
“Long story short we had to take this personal,” Nneka said. “Every moment is an opportunity. That’s as far as we can go with what happened.”
The game took a 180 in the third quarter. Nneka took over the show with 13 of her 22 points occurring in the third, with seven of them coming from the charity stripe. Her offensive charge allowed the Sparks to play much more aggressive all around, heading to the line as well for 11 shots and making 10 of them. Nneka’s free throws with two minutes remaining gave the Sparks the lead they never relinquished.
“Everyone felt that grit and mentality in the second half,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “Coach Fisher challenges us and at halftime the message simply put was asking if we were going to just roll over or be the one that will throw the first punch. We gave ourselves a little flex and played much more aggressive.”
Marina Mabrey off the bench contributed with 12 points. Chiney also had 12, while Chelsea Gray had 11.
The Sparks have two road games before the all star break, facing New York and Atlanta. They return back home August 1 against the league leading Las Vegas Aces.