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Spark Rally Earns a Gold Star

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Times Staff Writer

For 20 minutes Thursday, the Sparks looked as bad as they possibly could, appearing flatter than a new sheet of asphalt while being run over by the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Then they showed the Silver Stars -- and the rest of the WNBA -- why they are still the league’s best team.

After trailing, 37-15, in the first half -- they were still down, 41-24, at halftime -- the Sparks outscored San Antonio in the second half, 43-17, and stunned their hosts, 67-58, before 14,761 in the SBC Center.

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In tying a WNBA record by overcoming a 22-point deficit to win, the Sparks (12-2) held the Stars to six-for-36 shooting (16.6%) in the second half, as they swept to a third consecutive victory on this trip. The effort more than made up for the lackluster first half, and earned the team a day off from Coach Michael Cooper.

“We got ourselves in a big early hole,” Cooper said. “But I’ve said this from Day 1, we’re the best team in this league, and if we do the things we do best and take our time, there’s no one who can beat us.”

The Silver Stars (5-8), who played the Sparks last year in the Western Conference finals as the Utah Starzz, tied a franchise record for fewest points in a half.

San Antonio shot 45.8% in the first half, primarily with Adrienne Goodson and Marie Ferdinand scoring off the fastbreak. Defensively, the Silver Stars seemed to disrupt every play the Sparks tried to run, especially 7-foot-2 center Margo Dydek, who finished with five blocks, 16 points and 10 rebounds.

The Silver Stars reached their biggest lead, 37-15, on Dydek’s turnaround 11-foot jumper with 3:34 left in the first half.

“They outplayed us and outhustled us that first half,” said Lisa Leslie, who struggled against Dydek and finished the game with nine points and six rebounds. “They came to play in the first half. We settled for too many jump shots.”

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But in the second half, the game didn’t just flip-flop, it did a triple somersault.

Tamecka Dixon, who led all scorers with 19 points, opened the second half with a three-point play. It keyed a 10-0 Spark spurt and by the 12:13 mark a three-pointer by Sophia Witherspoon had extended the run to 16-4, cutting the deficit to 45-40.

The patience and confidence San Antonio had shown in the first half began to erode. The Silver Stars started firing up reckless shots, and fouled repeatedly on defense, sending the Sparks to the free-throw line.

“We looked like we were playing scared,” San Antonio Coach Candi Harvey said. “You can’t play basketball like that. All of a sudden, our transition defense and shot selection, we basically did everything we had not done in the first half. We totally, totally went away from the game plan.”

When DeLisha Milton stole a pass intended for Dydek and went in for an uncontested layup at 6:23, the Sparks not only had their first lead at 52-51, they had the lead for good.

“We’re a veteran team,” Dixon said. “And we understand we weren’t going to get all those points back at once. Our main focus in the second half was coming out aggressive, and having intensity. We did that, which is why we were able to chip away at the lead.”

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