Arlington, TX — The Dallas Wings entered College Park Center tonight looking to snap a three-game losing streak, but their competition was stout. The Los Angeles Sparks, the reigning WNBA champions, in comparison were beginning a hot streak of 2-0 and seeking to ride it out a bit longer.
On Dallas’ side, their star Skylar Diggins-Smith strutted in with a bit of confidence, coming off of her highest scoring game of the season thus far with 23 points. Even though she didn’t score that much tonight, her presence was felt as she flirted with a triple-double with 13 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.
Following her first double-double of the season and leading her team again tonight, Sparks’ forward, Nneka Ogwumike posted a second double-double for the season, sinking 28 points and capturing 13 rebounds. Close behind statistically was teammate, Candace Parker with 25 points and 6 rebounds.
However, even these astounding performances could not seal the deal for L.A. Amongst the loudest crowd of fans I have ever witnessed in Arlington, Texas; the Wings outscored the Sparks 32-19 in the final period of play to snap their string of losses, 96-90.
Early in the match-up, it appeared as if the Sparks, in fact, would continue their winning streak, crediting their effortless play offensively. With eloquent passing, Los Angeles kept the Wings in a fluster when guarding in the paint and led after the first period by a heaping 12 points, 28-16.
Ready to fight, the Wings began the second period of play with a 5-0 run, thanks to a few rookies. Kayla Thornton created a 3-point play, and Allisha Gray followed her lead with a basket from underneath.
A bit taken aback, the Sparks attempted to regain their early dominance as they called for a timeout. The teams re-entered play with Dallas still running! Glory Johnson and Karima Christmas-Kelly contributed their leadership to the fight, making it a 12-0 run. The scoreboard now displaying a tie, 28-28.
Witnessing the half slip through their fingertips, and without a basket in the second period, LA took another time out. This time though, it paid off. Sparks veteran, Parker stepped up to the challenge at hand, sinking her first basket of the second to set the new tone to conclude the half.
Just when thinking, what changed for Dallas in the second quarter -- momentum flipped. Both Sparks leaders, Ogwumike and Parker bounced back to lead with 14 points a piece and finished the half nine points over the home team, 50-41.
“LA had a lot of runs there in the first half and we just kept hanging in there with our defense. We had to step up there,” Dallas head coach Fred Williams stated on his team’s struggles on the defensive end early in the game.
Although Dallas outscored Los Angeles by one basket in the third, the momentum still favored the visitors. The period ended 71-64, but not without a little drama. Frustrated by the play calling both ways, an emotional Parker approached Wings’ Coach Williams while a blocking call against Theresa Plaisance was under review.
Parker gently poked Williams stating, “That’s a foul. Like, can we touch each other?” This friendly comradery between friend and foe soon ceased as the competition heightened.
The Wings mustered up all the magic for the fourth period, stunning the confident and decorated Sparks’ lineup. Despite recent losses, Dallas’ Johnson spoke confidently stating, “We are doing better and it showed today”.
Ogwumike scored the first basket of the final quarter for Los Angeles. Quickly, Dallas’ star, Diggins-Smith took charge. Swishing a dramatic shot at the buzzer of the shot clock, she drew a foul and turned the possession into a momentous three-point play, now 73-67 Los Angeles.
To the surprise of no one, Ogwumike responded by creating a three-point play of her own. But, her fiery rookie matchup, Thornton, wouldn’t let the stars steal all the attention. Thornton sank a three, then knocked the ball away from the Sparks offense, not once, but twice, allowing her team ample time to capitalize and bring it to a four-point game, 76-72.
The Wings’ leader of the game, Johnson, sank two at the line to put her at 18 points personally, and her team only one possession behind. But again, Los Angeles gained another three-point play from none other than, Ogwumike as she garnered 26 points and 13 rebounds.
With six minutes and 11 seconds remaining in the match, the loyal fans in College Park Center were brought to their feet when rookie, Saniya Chong came off the bench, received an assist from Diggins-Smith, and threw it up from behind the arc to tie the game, 79-79.
With the crowd still on their feet, Thornton stole the ball and all hope, away from the Sparks as she propelled herself through an open paint for an effortless lay-up. The rookie, now a hero, provided the Wings with their first lead of the game after leaving it at a nail-biting tie, five times.
Dallas never looked back after the lead was theirs. Ogwumike added to her 26 points, ending with 28, and brought the Sparks to 81 points. Once Dallas placed 81 points of their own on the scoreboard, the lead was never relinquished.
The Wings pushed to out-score the Sparks by 13 points in the fourth period. Johnson came up big in the last quarter as she recorded her third double-double of the season, snatching 12 rebounds tonight, plus a new season high 24 points, but humbly gave credit to those around her.
“My teammates had my back. It was a rough game for me. Mentally I needed to stay in it and every single person on the floor and on the benches, even the coaches, were staying positive with me,” stated Johnson.
Each of the eight women in the Wings’ lineup contributed a minimum of seven points to the board. Noteworthy, Diggins-Smith and Thornton added 13 each, Plaisance added 11, and Kaela Davis rounded out those with double-digits at 10 points.
“I thought the difference was the bench today. Scoring 30 points off the bench against a team like that - they stepped up,” Diggins-Smith noted on the difference makers of the game tonight.
Diggins-Smith also stated that her team was “hungry for a win.” More so than simply a sheer desire to win, the Wings demonstrated grit and determination that overshadowed the swagger of the reigning champions. True to Johnson’s word, perhaps they are getting better.
Triumphant, Dallas improves their record to 4-5 and their record at home to 2-2. Following tonight’s victory, the Wings have a little swagger of their own as they prep for a re-match against the Minnesota Lynx, again on their home court.
If they can find a way to defeat the champs, with a 14-point deficit nonetheless, they can surely find a way to hand the Lynx their first loss of the season this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Central Time.