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Sparks Run Out of Time

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Sparks, employing another mad dash into the final minutes without Lisa Leslie, fell just short of success Saturday, and the clock resumed ticking on Julie Rousseau’s increasingly shaky tenure as the team’s coach.

Unlike the club’s last-gasp victory against Phoenix on Thursday, Los Angeles this time surrendered too much to the Detroit Shock during mid-game and lost, 69-67, before 14,181.

It was the Sparks’ third loss in four games.

Afterward, team President Johnnie Buss repeated that Rousseau’s chances of lasting out the season were “better than 50-50,” and said he was happy with the team’s finish Saturday when, down by 15 points with 4:58 left, the Sparks outscored the Shock, 24-11.

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“Considering who wasn’t here to help, I thought we played pretty well, except for some gaps in our consistency,” Buss said.

Leslie, who will join the team in Cleveland, stayed home for a day’s treatment for knee, groin and wrist injuries. The Sparks (6-12) also are missing top draft pick Allison Feaster (broken foot) and center Haixia Zheng (knee).

Yet Rousseau’s makeshift lineup of reserves and tryout-camp players beat Phoenix and came close to beating the Shock (11-9).

Los Angeles fell behind early but went ahead, 23-22, with a 6-0 run with 2:31 left in the first half.

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But Detroit pulled away with a 13-0 run that began in the first half and last two minutes after intermission.

The Sparks’ recurring lapse--a soft start to second half--has confounded Rousseau more than anything else. She credited her team’s stretch run to defense.

“When we pick it up with our defensive pressure, good things happen to us,” she said.

The Sparks got 26 points from guard Tamecka Dixon, but she should have had more. Dixon creates athletic drives to the basket with her speed, but has difficulty finishing. She was 10 for 23 Saturday, and many of the misses were on artful layups.

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Point guard Penny Toler had 17 points.

Detroit was led by onetime Long Beach State standout Cindy Brown who, without Leslie in the way, had 14 rebounds. The Shock also got a combined 39 points from what is perhaps the WNBA’s best guard tandem, point Korie Hlede and Sandy Brondello. Leslie’s stand-in, Sandra Van Embricqs, was in early foul trouble and had a poor shooting day (0 for 5) and had five rebounds. Forward Eugenia Rycraw, also being given increased playing time because of team injuries, had only two points and three rebounds.

In the stretch run when the Sparks nearly caught the Shock, Pam McGee made three of four free throws and scored on a drive and Toler had a drive and a three-point basket.

Detroit had a 69-64 lead when Dixon made a three-point shot that just beat the final horn.

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“We were fortunate to win,” Detroit Coach Nancy Lieberman-Cline said.

“When we had a lot of injured players out earlier, we were 0 and six. You give the Sparks back the players they have out and they’re a dynamic team.”

The question is, will they return soon enough to save Rousseau?

Spark Notes

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The Sparks moved on to Cleveland for a Monday game with the Rockers. . . . The Sparks’ Aug. 9 game at Washington has been added to NBC’s schedule.


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