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Sparks fly to best team in WNBA at 13-1

A Family Affair: The Ogwumike sisters faced-off sunday afternoon, but bigger sister nneka would win today’s contest and improve the sparks to 13-1.

NBA Photos/Getty

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA- Dominant. That has been the word to describe the campaign the Los Angeles Sparks have put together in the early start of the season. The numbers speak for themselves. 

"I think everyone understands their role," said Nneka Ogwumike, "we're jelling quite well. We have an unwavering focus this year that I haven't seen in a while. That's what we are feeding off of. Everyone understands we have our own responsibilities, but we have to do it together."

Numbers Game: Los Angeles is fourth in the WNBA in scoring, and number one in scoring defense, limiting opponents to 71.8 points per game. However, most impressively is their 12-1 record. They were squeaky clean, winning 11 games, before falling to the then undefeated Minnesota Lynx in a 72-69 battle here at home back on June 21.

But, in true competitive spirit, the Sparks returned the favor three days later when they handed Minnesota their first loss of the season, 94-76.

Los Angeles looked to parlay that win, and carry that momentum, as they opened the first of a six-game homestand against the Sun.

The tip of the ball was a family affair, as sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike met at center stage for their respected teams- staring eye-to-eye thirsty to get the first touch.

"It's awesome," expressed Nneka "we've made it this far professionally, so it's great to have great competition and knowing it's your sister is even better."

Nneka would get the tip, but it was Connecticut who got off to a fast offensive start, going on a 6-0 run. Suns guard Alyssa Thomas set the momentum early, hitting back-to-back layups to give the Sun an early 6-0 lead.

However, as the battle waged on, Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike drew first blood, draining her first three-point shot of the night on an assist by Essence Carson. She tacked on four more with a pair of layups to give Los Angeles a six-point lead, 16-10.

The first quarter was fast paced, complimentary to both team's style of play with five lead changes, one tie, and Los Angeles up by four at the end of the first quarter, 25-21.

The Sun responded in the opening minutes of the second quarter, with forward Morgan Tuck putting up a pair of layups to give Connecticut the lead, 28-25.

Chiney, desperate not to be outshined by her big sister, got into her own offensive sync, hitting a layup midway through the quarter to give the Sun the lead, 32-31.

"It's a challenge," explained Chiney "Los Angeles is playing arguably the best basketball ever.  They are at the top of the league, and we are a young team trying to find our way."

A young Suns squad did play aggressively in the first 20 minutes of play. Most noticeably, when Alana Beard was fouled on a driving layup. Beard hit the and one to tie the game 36-36. But Suns guard Jasmine Thomas would get the last shot giving her team a two-point lead going into the half, 38-36.

Both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm at the start of third, with missed opportunities coming from each side. However, it was Sparks forward Carson who set the pace early for the offense with two, three-point shots to put Los Angeles up by six, 44-38.

As a result, Sun Head Coach Curt Miller was forced to call a timeout in hopes of disrupting the Sparks offense.

"Part of our success was the ability to score in the first half," explained Coach Miller, "[but] part of our hardship in the third quarter was that we didn't make shots and now they can get out and around us."

Miller's efforts would fall on deaf ears as Los Angeles did not let off the gas. Nneka hit a layup, and poor ball handling from the Suns would result in a turnover halfway through the third quarter.

To add insult to injury, Sparks guard Chelsea Gray connected on a three-point shot to give Los Angeles their biggest lead of the night, 58-50. An evidently frustrated Suns team, fouled center Jantel Lavender on a driving layup, giving her the and one, allowing the Sparks to close up the quarter up by ten, 61-51.

Los Angeles entered the fourth quarter in the driver's seat. All they had to do was continue to capitalize on what they had done so well all season- score and play good defense.

"I enjoyed how we fought back, " expressed Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler "when our defense can get stops in transition, we can score points."

Agler's squad continued to put up the points in the final minutes. Most noticeably, Carson, who continued to widen the gap, with a layup to give Los Angeles a 12 point lead, 67-55.

However, the night belonged to big sister, Nneka Ogwumike, who remained a constant on both sides the ball for the Sparks. Ogwumike showcased her talents on a pair of identical layups late in the fourth to give the Sparks a 71-63 lead.

Ogwumike returned the favor off an assist to teammate and All-Star forward Candace Parker to keep the deficit at seven, 75-68.

"Nneka's playing amazing," Parker expressed, "it makes it easier for me, because I can throw the ball anywhere around the rim and she's going to go get it. She's really doing a great job for our team on both ends."

As the final seconds ticked down, Los Angeles secured their 13th victory of the season with an 80-73 win over Connecticut.
As for Chiney, it's not so bad having a sister like Nneka in her corner.

"She's my #1 mentor," said Chiney, "she has the blueprint to developing in this league, she's been in this league for five years and each year her game has grown, it's fun."

The Sparks (13-1) proved that the number one that stands in their loss category was merely a speed bump on their road to perfection. They will try to continue their dominant pursuit of excellence when they host the Dallas Wings on Tuesday at Staples Center.