Sparks Put an End to Bibby Era

Times Staff Writer

The Henry Bibby Era with the Sparks is over.

Bibby, who was not on the bench for the Sparks' 72-63 loss to Sacramento at Staples Center on Tuesday, will be fired as coach today after a meeting with team President Johnny Buss.

No team official would comment publicly on Bibby's situation Tuesday, and a statement issued before the game said "further comment would be issued tomorrow afternoon." But according to sources high within the organization, Buss decided to make the change with five games left in the regular season.

Bibby's absence from the game Tuesday was termed for "personal reasons." Joe Bryant, who joined the staff three weeks ago, was given the head coaching duties for Tuesday's game. Shelley Patterson and Bob Webb, assistants under Bibby, were on the bench with Bryant.

Coincidence or not, Laker star Kobe Bryant, Joe's son, was at the game.

Joe Bryant said he was notified about 30 minutes before the game that he would be running the team. He did not consider Tuesday's effort an audition.

"There wasn't much time to think about too much," Bryant said. "I still had butterflies out there so I still love the game. But, like I told you guys a long time ago, I didn't come into this for this position. I'm here for the joy of the game and to help the girls. And it's really still the same thing."

Like Bryant, the players were also told the situation just before the game, according to guard Tamecka Dixon.

"We were surprised," said Dixon, who played nine minutes and scored two points. "You prepare to play the game, and to come and find that out right before the game ... of course, it was on everybody's minds."

Bibby, who reportedly had a two-year deal, will end his only season with a 13-15 record. He is the third coach in franchise history, along with Linda Sharp in 1997 and Karleen Thompson, to last a season or less. He is the third Spark coach to have a losing record.

Bibby's season was sabotaged as much by injuries to key players -- from Lisa Leslie and Nikki Teasley to Mwadi Mabika and Laura Macchi -- as it was by the Sparks' inability to string a winning streak longer than three games. Los Angeles is fighting to make the playoffs and trying to avoid its second losing season.

That dubious distinction drew one game closer with the Sparks' third defeat in four games to Sacramento this season. The loss was doubly felt considering Phoenix, holding the fourth and final playoff spot in the West, defeated Detroit. Minnesota also won Tuesday, moving past the Sparks into fifth place by percentage points.

Los Angeles was trailing 21-12 at the 10:58 mark of the first half when Sacramento went cold for nearly six minutes while the Sparks ripped off 20 consecutive points to go ahead by 11.

But the Monarchs were able to absorb the blow. By halftime, Sacramento was back in front 37-35.

"We were throwing the ball away and giving them offensive opportunities during that run," Sacramento Coach John Whisenant said. "Most of our nine first-half turnovers were in that six-minute period. We let them fluster us."

The composure was back in the second half. Sacramento would give back the lead only once in the second half; a three-point basket by Mabika put Los Angeles up, 59-58, with 4:07 to play. But the Monarchs' defense clamped down, holding the Sparks to one more basket and two free throws in the last four minutes.

"I kind of hope we knocked them out of the playoffs because I don't want to see them," Whisenant said. "They've got too much talent there, if they ever get it put together."

Rebekkah Brunson and DyMya Walker each had 17 points for Sacramento (21-8), which needs one more win or one more Seattle loss to clinch the West. Kara Lawson chipped in with 16.

Mabika had 12 points for the Sparks (13-16) and Lisa Leslie had 11.



Spark coaches

Coaches in the Sparks' nine-year history:

*--* Coach Years Record Linda Sharp 1997 4-7 Julie Rousseau 1997-98 17-20 Orlando Woolridge 1998-99 25-17 Michael Cooper 2000-04 119-31 Karleen Thompson 2004 11-3 Henry Bibby 2005 13-15


Note: Bibby becomes the fourth Spark coach to leave the team in midseason. Sharp and Rousseau were fired in 1997 and 1998, respectively, and Cooper left in 2004 to accept an assistant coaching job with the NBA's Denver Nuggets.


Playoff race

The battle for the fourth and final WNBA Western Conference playoff berth:

*--* TEAM W L Pct. GB Phoenix 14 14 500 -- Minnesota 14 16 467 1 Sparks 13 16 448 1 1/2



* Sparks -- HOME (3): Friday vs. Detroit, Sunday vs. Houston, Aug. 23 vs. Minnesota. AWAY (2): Aug. 26 at San Antonio, Aug. 27 at Houston.

* Phoenix -- HOME (3): Friday vs. San Antonio, Sunday vs. Minnesota, Aug. 25 vs. Houston. AWAY (3): Thursday at Houston, Aug. 23 at Sacramento, Aug. 27 at Seattle.

* Minnesota -- HOME (1): Aug. 27 vs. Sacramento. AWAY (3): Thursday at Seattle, Sunday at Phoenix, Aug. 23 at Sparks.

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