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Nneka Ogwumike spearheads shorthanded Sparks to victory over Wings

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike drives to the basket during a game against the Dallas Wings.
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike drives to the basket during a win over the Dallas Wings at Staples Center on Thursday.
(Getty Images)

Eight players, no problem. The shorthanded Sparks overcame a overcome 16-point deficit to defeat the Dallas Wings 69-64.

“That’s why sports [are] the most special and unique to ever exist because it’s not scripted. You have no idea what’s going to happen when you go out there,” head coach Derek Fisher said about the Sparks completing the largest comeback of the season. “Only thing you can control is your effort, your energy, your intensity, [and] commitment to your team.”

In their first game without Riquna Williams— who was suspended 10 games for domestic violence allegations —the Sparks struggled heavily on offense to start the game. Sparks shot 37.5 percent from the field and trailed by 16 points in the second quarter.

“You can’t just put the ball in people’s hands and expect points to go up on the board,” Fisher said about the Sparks first-half struggles.

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“Really good teams and great teams are able to execute and manage the details of what it takes to be efficient offensively. Good screening, good screening angles, players setting their defender up off the screen. Also having the confidence in your game offensively to make the play that is required.”

Chelsea Gray’s foul trouble hindered an already shortened rotation, but rookie Marina Mabrey stepped up and added 10 first-half points to help the Sparks cut into the deficit. Sparks trailed 42-32 at the half. Fisher challenged his team.

“We just have to kick it into gear and take it personally. Every moment is an opportunity. I am paraphrasing,” said Nneka Ogwumike, who finished with a team high 22 points and seven rebounds, about Fisher’s halftime message.

In the second half, the difference-maker was defense. Sparks upped the intensity in the third quarter forcing a shot-clock violation to open the second half and managed to hold the Wings to 2 for 16 from the field in the third quarter and a season-low nine points.

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“Defensively [Tierra Ruffin-Pratt] was doing things, Nneka was jumping into passing lanes, Chelsea was getting hits. We just played bigger, stronger, faster when we really needed to. Let’s just say coach Fisher was pretty motivated at halftime to wake us up out of our slumber. He challenged us,” Chiney Ogwumike said.

The Sparks started the quarter on a 13-4 run to narrow the Wing’s lead to one, 46-45 with 4:56 remaining in the quarter. Minutes later two made free throws by Nneka Ogwumike gave the Sparks their first lead since the opening minutes of the first quarter.

“I can’t quit. That’s what we want to establish on this team. You can’t quit. You can impact the game even if you’re not scoring,” said Nneka Ogwumike, who scored 13 points in the third quarter.

The Sparks finished the third quarter shooting 7 for 13 from the field and took a 56-51 lead that they wouldn’t lose in the fourth quarter.

“I liked our fight. We played really hard. Things are not easy for us right now. For us to dig in and play with that grit and mentality that everyone felt in the second half,” said Chiney Ogwumike, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds. “We’re not perfect, but as long as our effort is there. We feel happy with the results.”

Prior to the game the Sparks signed Karlie Samuelson to a seven-day contract. She played sparingly but offered the Sparks some depth off the bench.

“I think it’s a focal point for us right now because we are shorthanded in a way, but we know we have to rock with whoever we have,” said Nneka Ogwumike. “That also doesn’t dismiss the fact that we have some great leaders off the court as well. I think we’re just banding together and get these individual wins out.”

With the win over Dallas (5-13), the Sparks (10-7) are fourth in the WNBA. They will hit the road to face the New York Liberty on Saturday and the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday, before the All-Star break.


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