The No. 1 Los Angeles Sparks remain undefeated after Saturday night's 74-61 victory over the No. 11 San Antonio Stars. In the Sparks' best start since opening 9-0 in 2003, they completed a home-and-home set with two wins over the Stars in three days.
"We've got great unity, and each team member picks the other one up," Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler said. "If things don't go right, we've got somebody supporting them all the time, and that's where it all starts with our team this year."
The Sparks (7-0) were off to a hot start in the first quarter, holding the Stars (1-5) to an 11-2 deficit going into the first timeout of the game. However, whatever San Antonio head coach Dan Hughes said to fire up his team must have worked.
The Stars came out of the timeout on a 9-0 run, held the Sparks to a scoreless four minutes, and tied the game 11-11 to end the first quarter. Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver, who put up 20 points in the Sparks' 68-61 win in San Antonio on Thursday night, and Stars guard Kayla McBride led all scorers with 5 points.
"I think San Antonio does a great job of just clogging up the middle," Sparks guard Alana Beard said. "That's where we like to score the most of our points, and we like to get out in transition, and they controlled those the last two games."
The Sparks came out of the gates responding with an 8-2 run, and increased their shot efficiency from 26 percent to 40 percent. Though Los Angeles held San Antonio to a 29 percent efficiency, Stars' rookie guard Moriah Jefferson - who's been going through growing pains since being the second overall pick out of UConn - completely emerged.
Jefferson hit the first three-pointer of the game, to cut San Antonio's deficit to one point, added six points, and led all scorers with 10 points, alongside Sparks forward and WNBA veteran, Candace Parker. Los Angeles closed the half on a 9-2 run and took a 33-26 lead into the locker room.
"The thing with Moriah (Jefferson) is, boy we've pushed her into a situation with a young team to have to play," Hughes said. "That's the hardest position, as a point guard, but what I told her is when you play teams a second time, she's such a good student of the game, you're going to find yourself in a little better rhythm and a little better understanding of what you have to do."
Four points off of free-throws from Toliver and Nneka Ogwumike, gave the Sparks their largest lead of the game, with a 13-point advantage over the Stars. Toliver (7 game-high rebs), Ogwumike (6 rebs) and Parker (5 rebs) dominated the boards, and 12 points from guard Alana Beard, gave the Sparks a 53-47 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. Jefferson continued to show offensive aggressiveness, and led all scorers with a career-high 18 points.
"We've had some really good stretches of team defense the last couple of games," Agler said. "San Antonio is a team that, they're young obviously, but they've got some talent, and they're getting better.
What I liked from game one, which was Thursday, to tonight was the fact that we learned from some of the things, some of the adjustments we made, and we let it play out on the floor. From a coaching standpoint, that's nice to see."
In the final 10 minutes of play, Los Angeles forward Essence Carson hit a season-high 13 points, putting four of five Sparks starters in double-digits scoring, alongside Parker (15 pts), Toliver (13 pts), Beard (12 pts).
Los Angeles went 9-of-13 from beyond the arc for a 69 percent efficiency, compared to San Antonio's 19 percent from the same range. Every player from San Antonio's roster touched the hardwood, the team shot at a 39 percent field goal efficiency, and Jefferson led all scorers with 18 points, but the Stars ultimately couldn't put out the Sparks' 74-61 flame.
"Well I think our chemistry is great, on and off the floor," Parker said. "We're getting better while winning; I think that's the key. We're not satisfied. It's early in the season and you know things can happen, look how we turned around the season last year. We just want to continue to get better."
The Sparks will look to remain undefeated on Tuesday, as they host the New York Liberty at 7 pm. The Stars will travel to Phoenix to face the Mercury on Thursday for a 9 pm tipoff.