Liberty vs. Sparks Game Notes: Paint play keys L.A.'s win

USA TODAY Sports

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Nneka Ogwumike's 15 points and nine rebounds led a solid Sparks effort on the road as LA came out with a 68-54 win over New York. Candace Parker and Jantel Lavender each had 14 for Los Angeles. Tina Charles led all scorers with 20 for the Liberty. For jacked-up jumpers, the potential of bad blood, inappropriate physical exams, forcing the issue, Irish, purple, and panic, join your intrepid and over-LeBroned blogger after the jump.

Hey, gang! We're coming to you, hopefully on a minimum of tape and technical delay, from Madison Square Garden, the World's Most Famous Arena, for the Liberty's match-up with the Los Angeles Sparks.

There is too much purple in this place for my liking, including the gentleman sitting behind me. (He's only in it for Candace Parker, though. I guess there are worse things.)

Swin Cash did not make a good first impression when she blew several of us off looking for her autograph. Maybe she was just super focused on getting reacquainted with Bill and the gang, but when you're contrasting her with Sunshine, she doesn't come off well there.

Adorable moment at the Gatorade cooler, where it would appear that Anna Cruz got shanghaied into the rookie duty of handing out Gatorade by Sugar Rodgers, and Alex Montgomery took full advantage.

We're approaching 30 minutes before game time, and the last Spark has just cleared the floor. I think that's Farhiya Abdi, but I'm not sure. She spent a lot of time shooting.

We have Irish step dancers, with band and singers, to entertain us. The dancers are good, the singers not so much. I think I've spent too much time listening to my BFF's Celtic collection, since I recognize all the music. I think they need to fix the mics, too.

It's 42-33 Los Angeles at the half, and I am deeply disturbed. We're playing like this is our first time running the offense. Too many extra passes, and Los Angeles is taking advantage by doubling and going aggressively after the ball. It looks like they're force-feeding Swin Cash when she's in the game, which makes no sense. Something is deeply, badly off. Los Angeles is playing well in the post- we're utterly lost on defense, and a fair amount of that has come down to Swin too.

With all the Irish tonight with the dancing and the music, and with the amount of Detroit on the bench, I expect Ruth Riley and Jacqueline Batteast to spontaneously materialize at any moment.

The performances have gone on a bit long. Everyone is attempting to dodge small dancing people in frilly skirts.

That could have gone a lot better. To put it mildly. Credit to Los Angeles: they attacked every vulnerability and penetrated the paint very well. Carol Ross's defensive mindset was definitely top of mind for them.

On the Liberty

At this point, I'm just going to assume Essence Carson is either injured or waiting for a trade to be finalized. Second time in a row she hasn't even been thrown garbage time pity minutes. Bill, if you're not going to play her, make it official so she can come in street clothes- she has a bit of style to her.

Chucky Jeffery should not be running the point when Anna Cruz is in the game- her handle is not secure enough and she doesn't seem to have a strong grasp of the offense. I love her on-ball defense and determination, and at least she has slightly better shot selection than Sugar Rodgers did tonight. Then again, I have seen random guys at pick-up games demonstrating slightly better shot selection than Sugar Rodgers did tonight.

Sugar seemed to think she was back at Georgetown and had carte blanche to take whatever stupid shot idea wandered into her head at any given moment. There is no excuse for a guard as tiny as Sugar to be putting up hook shots like she thinks she's Tina Charles. She was consistently taking shots designed to draw contact instead of score the basket, and given the state of the officiating tonight, this was not a successful plan. She was okay defensively, which is a refreshing change from the aforementioned Georgetown era, though.

Chardé Houston gave us nothing tonight, except nightmares of just how bad an idea it is to have her attempting to guard Candace Parker. Even her shot was off, and for Chardé, that's a really bad sign.

I don't even know what to make of Swin Cash, or why she was getting more touches off the bench than pretty much anyone else on the team, but she looks like the player who was barely playing in Atlanta and marked no statistics worth mentioning there. I know it's only her first game with the team, but that is in and of itself worrisome- why did Bill put so much faith in a player who was a Dreamgirl a day and a half ago?

Chardé was a DNP-CD her first game; pretty sure Shanece McKinney was too, and Nece went through training camp with the team. Shanece got a few minutes in the first half and a little time in the fourth quarter- she was physical, but inaccurate. Plenette Pierson was the only bench player who really contributed anything, which makes sense, because Plenette is essentially a starter who doesn't start.

I know that doesn't sound logical, but I actually agree with Bill's thinking here: save the early fouls by having Avery commit them, give Plenette extra rest, let her watch the flow of the game, and put her in to get things re-started. She at least was willing to go to the hoop with some common sense (which is more than I can say for Sugar, and yes, I know I'm harping).

Avery Warley-Talbert did try on the boards, but she was sorely outclassed there, and in all other aspects of the game, by the big front line of LA. And that's the gamble you take when you have Plenette as the supersub. Cappie Pondexter was a little off all night, and it became clear early in the second half that she was injured, when she came out of the game and never came back. She was limping whenever she got off the bench during timeouts, and Laura Ramus was investigating something in her left thigh area (and let me tell you, the way Ramus was feeling all up in her shorts did NOT look right, but I assume it was strictly professional). I really hope she gets better, because we need her, and this game made that obvious.

Anna Cruz was good defensively and made a lot of the right passes, but also made a lot of the wrong passes. A lot of people were making the wrong passes tonight, though. I love her hustle and her willingness to hit the deck, and she showed more of that than anyone else tonight (though it was still below her season average).

Alex Montgomery brought it on defense, and she drew Candace Parker fairly often, but that left her no energy to do anything that made sense offensively. She was more passive than usual. She had a couple of good shots early, but I don't think she had anything left in the tank late.

Tina Charles was left to pick up the slack, and while she did MVP work on the offensive end, she bailed frequently and often defensively and on the boards. I understand that much was asked of her tonight with no Cappie and no consistent help from anyone else, but we needed her at both ends of the floor.

Too many extra passes. Too many players under the basket throwing the ball away. Too many needless hook shots from Sugar (Sugar, you are not Tina, even if Tina had the hook working tonight). Too much Swin in her first game. Too much desperation. Not enough gotdamn common sense. Y'all are not Helen Darling, stop running around like headless chickens out there.

On the Sparks

Nikki Greene played briefly at the very end of the game and could not hit a jump shot. Armintie Herrington also demonstrated that she still does not have a jump shot- but she's still fast and she still closes relentlessly on defense.

Candice Wiggins still has a bit of rust on her (and this is according to the Parker fan I got stuck in front of), but showed flashes of her old form. She couldn't finish, but she could start. Lindsey Harding cut to the basket with style and pizzazz, though she had a little too much pizzazz at times. She might have been coming off the bench, but much like Plenette, she looked comfortable in that role. I know plus/minus is pretty much a big fat lie, but her +15 as compared to the rest of her unit stands out (Wiggins at +1, Herrington at +3, Gruda at +6- and they played pretty much as a unit). Sandrine Gruda needs to stop shooting if I'm the Sparks or in any way affiliated with the Sparks. Just... no, Sandrine. Non. N'est bon idée. (Or is that bonne idée? Je n'parle français.)

Jantel Lavender is not quite her Ohio State predecessor when it comes to making shots off the glass (that little drop with the left hand off the window was a Jessica Davenport specialty) but she got inside and made life miserable for the Liberty. She used her body well to create space both for herself and for her teammates- she was setting tough screens all night. She was really feeling it in the second half, getting all kinds of interesting rolls off the rim.

Alana Beard looks odd as a point guard, but she did capably, and she cut to the basket like a hot knife through butter. It was full flashback to the Washington days, before the ankle went out on her.

Kristi Toliver was mostly shut down, and reacted like a bit of a punk when she finally did get something to go down in the second half. I could also do with less of her flopping. Slovakia didn't make the World Cup, Kristi. She got pretty flashy with her passing, which was fun to watch but not particularly productive for her team.

Nneka Ogwumike does all the things. She was fierce on defense- there was one Liberty possession where she simply would not stop hounding the ballhandler along the sideline to the baseline. She rebounded well. She finished her shots well. She survived Plenette Pierson (seriously, between Plenette's tangles with Chiney and this game, I'm starting to think Plenette is trying to start a blood feud with the Ogwumike family. THIS IS NOT A GOOD PLAN, PLENETTE.) and gave almost as good as she got. The only thing I don't like about her is her footwork- she has an obnoxious tendency to trip her opponents.

Candace Parker is smooth to watch when she's gliding past her defender, but if you put a stubborn body on her, she's much less effective. If I'm playing against the Sparks, I'm okay with her desire to wander around the midrange. When she drives, she's phenomenal- but of all the LA players tonight, she might have been the least inclined to drive among players who use dribble penetration.

Los Angeles cut into the lane over and over again, whether it was Harding spinning around defenders or Beard moving through open space. Most of their baskets were in the paint, either with passes down low to the three-headed monster of post players or on penetration by Parker and the guards.

Other notes

I did not approve of the officiating, and I'm grateful that no one got hurt. I still can't believe Toliver got away with that shove on Anna. I swear, Herrington got so much benefit of the doubt from Michael Price on out of bounds calls that I thought there was some kind of familial relationship between them.

I don't know what Candace was saying to Bill, but I'm surprised that didn't end badly. I also don't know what Plenette was saying on the bench that Barb Farris was so energetically agreeing with, but I don't like her body language during it. She was hot under the collar about something.

Spoon has gone back to the braids leading up into the sort-of-hawk. Whatever makes you happy, Spoon.

I just don't know what to make of this team. I love them, but I love them with a 2 by 4.

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