LOS ANGELES, CA - The Los Angeles Sparks.
The name alone carries weight, as the Sparks have the best record in the league, and more impressively, are only the second team in WNBA history to start a season 18-1.
Staples Center filled with the purple and gold faithful, as Los Angeles entered the last of their six-game homestand against the Washington Mystics, before heading off on a road schedule that will take them away from their home crowd until September 4th.
The Sparks have put together a historic campaign, and with two Championship banners swinging overhead, it's evident that they are on a mission to add another one to the rafters.
And as Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler's team continues to stand alone atop the league, it is forward Nneka Ogwumike who continues to standout.
Sparkling Bright: In the month of June, Ogwumike shot 73.3%, knocking down 85-of-116 shot attempts, and averaging a Western Conference- high 19.7 points per game, rightfully earning her the Western Conference Player of the Month.
"Efficiency," explained Ogwumike, "that definitely speaks to the type of player that I am. I want to be aggressive on both ends of the court. I try my best to help my teammates and be a leader."
Ogwumike's aggressive prowess and towering statue contributed to her success against a determined Mystics squad. She went 10-of-14 from the paint, tallied 22 points in Los Angeles' 93-82 win.
Her physical toughness, however, was challenged throughout the first 20 minutes of play. The Mystics double-teamed Ogwumike, holding her to only eight points in the first half.
To Ogwumike, it's personal.
"When I am out there, I take things personal," said Ogwumike, "if someone scores on me or gets a rebound, I take it personally. I don't want to take any plays off."
With things personal, Ogwumike got to work early in the face of Washington's defensive attack.
Ogwumike, who stands second in the Western Conference in rebounds (8.2 per game), got her first rebound and basket, in an attempt to create distance early at 46-42. Followed by a ball-saving dive against Mystic center Kia Vaughn, Ogwumike's way of making it known to Washington that she, and Los Angeles, were not going down without a fight.
But a rising star is only as good as her supporting cast, and that was made evident with the help of Sparks forward Candace Parker. Parker, typical to veteran play, finished the night with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists.
Plain and simple: Ogwumike and Parker have something special.
"It's awesome," said Ogwumike, "Candace and I have this chemistry we've developed over the years. She likes to distribute the ball, and I like to catch it."
Parker and Ogwumike found each other four times in today's matchup. Parker connected with Ogwumike for the third time in the game to open the fourth quarter. As Parker dribbled into traffic, a shot she could have taken, but dished it out to Ogwumike, who drained the shot making it 69-62.
The base of Ogwumike and Parker's relationship is respect, which translates into points, and ultimately wins.
"Nneka has been our steady force this year," said Parker, "when we need a basket, she gets it. When we need a rebound, she gets it."
Ogwumike, who continued to put up MVP candidate worthy numbers today, with 22 points, seven rebounds, and two assists, recognizes that it's a team effort that has made them the best in the league at 18-1.
"We complement each other," said Ogwumike, "Jantel [Lavender] can put up big numbers, Candace can put up big numbers. On any given night it can be anyone's game."
To clarify: Sparks center Jantel Lavender put up 20 points off the bench, guard Kristi Toliver hit three three-point shots, and Parker was one assist away from her first-ever triple double.
So while it is true, with the Sparks it can be anyone's night. However, it's Ogwumike's time and quite possibly her season.
"She's our steady Eddy," said Parker, "and I'm really proud of her."
Dominant Sparks powering forward behind efficient Ogwumike
Nneka Ogwumike continues to put up MVP candidate worthy numbers, as she leads her team to a comeback win against Washington. The win keeps the Sparks at the top of the league with the best record at 18-1.
LOS ANGELES, CA - The Los Angeles Sparks.