One of the most discussed stories in the WNBA so far this season is the notable omission of Candace Parker from the USA Olympic team. But with the way she and her teammates on the Los Angeles Sparks have been playing as of late, you would never know that.
The Los Angeles Sparks continued their dominance on Friday night with a win over the Washington Mystics 97-67.
"I don't think I need to prove myself," Parker said following her team's dominating win. "I think our team needs to prove ourselves, and we need to be in the hunt for a WNBA championship."
Kristi Toliver led the Sparks offensively with 19 points. Jantel Lavender added 12, while Candace Parker recorded a team-high 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Emma Meesseman led the Mystics with 13 points.
The difference in the game was the Sparks ball movement, as they recorded 28 team assists compared to the Mystics 14. Head Coach Brian Agler, who tonight recorded his 200th career win, said that ball movement is part of what he preaches each day to his team.
"We want to move the basketball and move the defense," Agler said. "So when we do that we have a chance to get open shots. And this team can hit open shots."
"When the ball moves, everybody's hard to guard," Toliver added. "We have so many threats offensively on this team that as long as we do the right thing and we're not stagnant with the basketball, good things are going to happen. Tonight was just a prime example of that, and as long as we continue to do that, we're going to be hard to guard."
Parker, who up until tonight had been averaging 35 points, said that because of the offensive ability of her team, she doesn't feel the weight of the world on her shoulders.
"I think this team is so talented that I don't have to do that every night. And that's the greatest thing," Parker said. "We're able to kind of build on tonight and everybody got in, everybody contributed, and that's what we wanted tonight."
The Sparks provided a balanced offensive attack early, with Parker, Toliver, Lavender and Alana Beard. Each with four points. Other than Meesseman, who recorded 6 rebounds and five points in the first quarter alone, the Mystics struggled to get their shots to fall early on and found themselves down by double digits, 20-10. Agler was not shy about acknowledging what his stars mean to the team.
"Kristi is one of the great shooters in the world, and she's in a good rhythm right now," he said. "And Candace is one of the best players in the world. One of the elite. So both of those players along with Nneka and Alana are really the leaders of the team."
Mystics head coach Mike Thibault expressed disappointment in his own team's play, but acknowledged the versatility of Los Angeles stars.
"We're not playing good basketball right now. There's no way to sugarcoat it. I don't know what's going to change it," he said.
"Alana Beard was exceptional for them even though she wasn't their leading scorer. I thought that she caused incredible problems for us because of the defensive effort. She was a one-person press; she was disruptive; she got their energy up for them. Early on we did a good job on [Candace] Parker and [Nneka] Ogwumike, but Beard and [Kristi] Toliver ignited them, and I thought a lot of it had to do with Beard's defense."
Stefanie Dolson and Tayler Hill would breathe life into the Mystics in the second quarter. A three-pointer from Hill would bring the Mystics to within seven midway through the quarter.
She quickly followed that up with a steal and an assist to Dolson that would force Los Angeles to call a timeout. The Sparks didn't score for nearly five minutes, before Toliver finally ended the Washington run with a pair of three-pointers to extend the Los Angeles lead back out to nine. The Sparks would enter the locker room with a 12-point lead at halftime.
Parker and Toliver would push that lead out to 20 to get the second half started. Toliver sunk three three-pointers in less than three minutes with assists coming from Parker, Beard and Nneka Ogwumike.
The deficit would prove too much for Washington to overcome despite a strong performance in the second half from Meesseman. The reserves would end the night as the Sparks came out with their 30-point win.