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Sparks Roll Past the Rockers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In easily their best game of a dismal season, the Sparks rocked Cleveland with seven three-point baskets in the first 11 minutes, squashed a second-half Rockers’ rally and cruised to an 87-66 victory Sunday afternoon at the Great Western Forum.

The Sparks (4-8) thus squared their four-game home stand at 2-2 with only their third victory since June 19. They’d lost six of the previous seven.

The victory also brought Los Angeles out of the WNBA Western Conference cellar.

To the delight of an announced crowd of 7,032, the Sparks, for the first time, sizzled early and late in routing Cleveland (6-7).

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Most sizzling of all was Penny Toler, the Sparks’ 32-year-old point guard.

“Yeah, I’d have to say it was my best WNBA game,” she said, after setting the tone early with four three-pointers in the game’s first nine minutes, when Los Angeles sped to a 31-16 lead.

Toler, a veteran of eight European seasons, finished with a career-high 22 points and a season-high nine assists.

Los Angeles had a 42-36 halftime lead but lost some momentum midway through the second half, when Cleveland’s Suzie McConnell Serio and Isabelle Fijalkowski spurred the Rockers to within 57-55, but that was it for the Rockers, who lost their second in a row.

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The Sparks played as well defensively, limiting Cleveland to minimal effectiveness inside at key points. Particularly effective was reserve Eugenia Rycraw. With five minutes left in the first half, the Rockers had only four points in the paint.

On a day when the Sparks outrebounded their foe, 31-22, Lisa Leslie, in 30 minutes, had 18 points and 11 rebounds and a career-high six steals, most of those interrupting Cleveland fastbreaks.

The Rockers, who led only at 2-0, were undone after moving within 57-55 when the Sparks, with Leslie and Jamila Wideman scoring 10 points in a surge, had a 14-5 run.

Wideman, the backup point who missed all of training camp and the first five games because of a back injury, had her best outing yet with solid second-half leadership.

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“We need this same kind of aggressiveness and intensity every time out,” Toler said. “We did this against Charlotte [an 86-79 win], then came out flat against Sacramento.”

Said Coach Julie Rousseau: “They challenged our outside game early [by employing a zone], and we took them out of it with all those early threes.

“We told them to take that open shot when they have it, but also to be patient . . . maybe they were a little confused at times. This gives us great momentum going to Phoenix.”

For the third straight game, Spark turnovers fell. They had 15 Sunday, to go with 16 steals.

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WNBA Notes

Andrea Congreaves scored 23 points, including 18 in the second half, and the Charlotte Sting defeated the Liberty, 75-57, before 14,483 at New York.

The first-place Sting (11-3) extended their lead to 3 1/2 games over the second-place Liberty (8-7) in the Eastern Conference as the WNBA reaches the midpoint of the 30-game season.

Kym Hampton scored 12 points for New York, which lost for only the second time in eight games at home.

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