It sure feels good to be home. The Sparks won at Staples Center for the 11th straight time Sunday, besting one of the WNBA’s top teams, the Connecticut Sun, 84-72. It was a statement victory, giving the Sparks (18-10) the tiebreaker should they catch the Sun (20-9) in the standings.
It didn’t come easily. Before a sold-out arena of 17,076 celebrating #WeAreWomen day, the teams went back and forth for the first half. With the final moments of the second quarter ticking away and the score knotted at 39, 5-foot-7 guard Riquna Williams found herself defended by 6-6 defensive force Jonquel Jones. With some fancy dribbling, Williams found herself in the corner, hoisting a fadeway jumper as the buzzer sounded.
It went in, and the Sparks took not only a lead, but momentum into halftime.
“I kind of glanced at the shot clock, and knew I had to put it up,” said Williams, who led all scorers with 21 points, including five three-pointers. “So I just dribbled to the corner. … Normally when post players are guarding a guard, it’s like their worst nightmare. So for me it’s attack mindset, because that’s not where they want to be.”
After that, it was all Sparks. Los Angeles jumped on Connecticut in the third quarter with suffocating defense and held the Sun to 13 points for the second straight quarter to push the lead to double digits.
It started in the backcourt, where the Sparks defenders kept the Sun guards from getting to their spots and dictating the flow of the game. Connecticut’s starting backcourt of Courtney Williams and Jasmine Thomas combined for 28 points and 10 assists, but shot just 12 for 32 from the field.
“When you guard good players like those two, they’re gonna score points,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said. “They’re gonna get the best of you on a lot of possessions, because they’re that good. But the mental fortitude, and the ability to let that roll off your back, and stick your nose in there the next time … And there’s a trust factor that you have to have in your teammates. That you can take the risk of sticking your nose in there, and you’re not gonna get embarrassed after, because nobody was willing to have your back and rotate for you.”
While two of the WNBA’s top teams squared off, two of its top players did as well, as MVP candidates Nneka Ogwumike and Jones were matched up against each other. They produced nearly equal stat lines: 16 points on six-for-10 shooting, 12 rebounds, and two steals for Jones, and 16 points on six-for-nine shooting, eight rebounds, four steals and a win for Ogwumike. Their battle set the tone for an intense game filled with hard fouls, flying bodies and technical fouls.
“It was definitely a playoff atmosphere,” Sparks center Candace Parker said. “Nneka did a great job. It’s tough to go against [Jones’] length, but she was able to attack her.”
The Sparks now hit the road for their final three away games before ending the season with a three-game home stand.