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Defense is key to Sparks’ victory on Pat Summitt tribute night

Sparks Nneka Ogwumike lead the team with 24 points in the 84-74 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday.
Sparks Nneka Ogwumike lead the team with 24 points in the 84-74 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday.
(Gregory Payan / Associated Press)

Nneka Ogwumike’s 24 points led the Sparks to an 84-74 victory over the shorthanded Phoenix Mercury onThursday night at Staples Center for their fourth victory in a row.

Candace Parker finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds on Pat Summitt Leadership Night.

“I think so, we got the win. Rebounds were huge for [Summitt],” Parker said when asked about if her late college coach at Tennessee would have been proud of her performance. “She always talked about rebounding, so I made sure I got double digits in rebounding.”

The Sparks opened the game on 9-2 run and established a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

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The Sparks outscored the Mercury 25-15 in the first quarter and Ogwumike had 10 of the points.

“We just want to start off strong in each game,” Chelsea Gray said. “I think that our defensive intensity this game was amazing coming out. We [made] them take some difficult shots.”

While the Sparks shot 49.2% from the field and 43.5% on three-pointers, they held the Mercury to 34.9% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc.

“Defense is always an emphasis for us,” Ogwumike said. “We always try our best to make sure we keep them out of the paint, but more specifically they have good three-point shooting and so we wanted to make sure we were aggressive on the ball.”

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The defensive effort helped the Sparks increase the lead to 22 points, holding the Mercury without a field goal for the first four minutes in the third quarter.

“You’re not going to shoot 50% from the field and 40% from the three-point line every night,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said. “So, I like when we see field goal percentage for our opponent in the low to mid-30s, 27% from three-point lines, force 16 turnovers. Those are the stats that can be consistent every night. Shooting is always somewhat inconsistent, but [defense] is our identity. That’s what we want it to be.”

Phoenix managed to cut the Sparks’ lead to single digits with under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but back-to-back baskets by Gray staved off the comeback attempt.

Mercury center Brittney Griner led all scorers with 27 points.

Gray struggled most of the night and finished with 10 points on four-of-13 shooting. Sydney Wiese tied her career high with 12 points, making all three three-point tries.

“We’re still working on making sure that we stay consistent,” Wiese said. “We don’t pay attention to the scoreboard; it’s zero-zero throughout the whole game. Just making sure we handle business no matter who’s out there.”

The Sparks (14-8) will finish up their four game homestand Sunday when they face the Chicago Sky.


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