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Shorthanded Sparks defeat Sun in home opener

Los Angeles Sparks’ Riquna Williams, right, grabs a rebound next to Connecticut Sun’s Morgan Tuck, c
Sparks’ Riquna Williams, right, grabs a rebound next to Connecticut Sun’s Morgan Tuck, center, during the first half on Friday at Staples Center.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Chiney Ogwumike played the first 95 games of her WNBA career with the Connecticut Sun. In just her second game with the Sparks, she got to face the team that drafted her first overall five years ago.

With 1:19 remaining in the game, and the Sparks clinging to a two-point lead, Ogwumike outmuscled her old teammates for an offensive rebound. With both elbows wide, she went straight up and finished through contact for a three-point play. She punched the air and screamed at the top of her lungs, as the fans at Staples Center did the same.

Ogwumike finished the night with a game-high 20 points and seven rebounds, and the Sparks emerged with their first win of the season 77-70.

“It was fun,” said Ogwumike, the 2014 WNBA rookie of the year and two-time All-Star who came to the Sparks in a trade this offseason. “First game at Staples, playing against my former team, I don’t even know how it was scripted. Entering the season, not knowing that this was going to happen — me coming to L.A.”

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Ogwumike’s performance came on the heels of a lackluster opener on Sunday in which she shot just one for 10 from the field in a loss to the Las Vegas Aces.

“We learned a lot about ourselves in Las Vegas, and we got home and we just got to work,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said.

“And she was at the top of the list of people that figured out really quickly like, ‘OK, what I’ve been doing up to now isn’t working. So let me make some adjustments, let me do some things differently day-to-day on how I’m preparing myself.’ … And when players get results from their hard work, then you don’t have to be the one to tell them all the time. They feel it.”

If one Ogwumike was the key to victory, two solidified the matter. Despite spending much of the game matched up against the much-bigger Jonquel Jones (who scored 16 points and had 22 rebounds), Ogwumike’s sister Nneka secured her second consecutive double-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds.

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Playing without Candace Parker (left hamstring strain), Alana Beard (left leg injury), and Maria Vadeeva (overseas commitment), the Sparks needed a team effort to beat Connecticut.

That was evident in the pesky defense from opening tip until final buzzer.

The Sparks held the Sun to 30.8% shooting — including 26.1% on three-pointers, and 37.2% in the paint. That was enough to overcome a mediocre offensive performance (38.9% shooting) and a 12-rebound deficit.

The Sparks now embark on a four-game road trip, and won’t play at home until June 15.

“We definitely are competitive individually, but you saw today we’re competitive collectively,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “It’s not gonna be perfect, but as long as we have the right mindset that we’re not gonna get outworked, I like our chances against anybody.”

sports@latimes.com


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