Despite a late surge in the last seconds of the game, the Los Angeles Sparks beat the Pheonix Mercury 77-71. Center Candace Parker led in scoring for the night at 24 points and 11 rebounds. Forward Essence Carson earned 12 points for Los Angeles. Forward Nneka Ogwumike scored five assists.
The Sparks made history Friday by tying the WNBA’s record for the best start to a season with a 11-0 record.
“We played well down the stretch…using clock on the offensive end, we didn’t turn the ball over,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler. “It was a challenge for us to keep them off the free throw line though.”
Mercury forward Candice Dupree scored 16 points. Forward DeWanna Bonner gained nine rebounds.
Phoenix has one of the best offenses of the league, scoring an average of 87.9 points per game. Free throws kept the Mercury competitive; they scored 22 points from the charity stripe, over twice as many as the Sparks.
“They do a really good job of congesting, they’ll pressure the ball, but then everybody else is in the lane, so it kind of makes it more difficult to turn the corner, get in the paint,” said guard Kristi Toliver. “When you have the presence of Brittney Griner, it makes it a little more difficult to finish at the rim.”
The Sparks gained their lead early in the first quarter. However, free throws and three pointers would pull Phoenix to within two points with Los Angeles. The Sparks shot at 52.6 percent from the field while Phoenix only shot at 43.8 percent during that period.
The fast style of basketball that Los Angeles played and their defense has been an asset. The Phoenix offense was challenging to Parker.
“They have a big front line,” Parker said. “And just defensively, trying to find holes in their defense and obviously when to push the ball and when to slow up.”
Ogwumike got into foul trouble in the second quarter. The accuracy of Phoenix from the free throw line would keep them in the game although they continued to trail. Phoenix did not have an answer for Toliver’s three pointers.
The Sparks maintained their lead into halftime at 40-36, however the Mercury was out rebounding them 24 to 11. Sparks had 22 points in the paint compared to the Mercury’s 10.
Parker was the only player to reach the double digits after the first half.
The offensive dominance of the Sparks was threatened early in the third quarter after guard Penny Taylor scored a pair of 3-point shots. Phoenix was one point behind the Sparks. Shortly after, Los Angeles went on a brief 5-0 run, restoring their control.
The fourth belonged to forward Candice Dupree who scored 12 points for the Mercury. Los Angeles committed four turnovers, but managed to make up for their mistakes. Ogwumike committed three blocks on three different Mercury players.
A jump shot from Taurasi brought the Mercury’s deficit to four points with 17 seconds left in regulation, an effort that could not save the team.
The Sparks will play the defending WNBA champions, the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday, June 21 at the Staples Center.