Los Angeles, CA— While the transition from ESPY’s ball gowns yesterday, to donning the purple and gold jerseys, today was swift for Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker, they managed to turn heads two nights in a row. Parker, fresh off of winning the “Best WNBA Player” award, and Ogwumike, presenter of the Capital One Cup, were all business tonight, combining for 49 points in a desperately needed 87-77 win over the Connecticut Sun.
Winners of five straight games and 10 out of their last 12 contests entering the night, the Sun lived up to the hype early as they took a 32-18 lead at the close of the first quarter.
But the Staples Center has played inhospitable host to opposing teams this year for a reason —the Sparks don’t even blink at deficits on their home floor. Trailing by 17 against the Washington Mystics in their most recent home appearance, LA had another treat in store for their fans as they erased a 14-point first half deficit.
The Sparks’ reversal of fortunes can be traced to two things: an inspired second quarter performance on both ends of the floor and the play of Ogwumike, who stayed in relentless attack mode all night.
The Sparks came out in the second quarter with heightened energy and evident desire. They chipped away at the 14-point deficit thanks to the invigorating play of their veterans, Parker and Ogwumike, and the all-important ability to get defensive stops.
“They were hitting shots early and they put us on our heels a little bit,” said head coach Brian Agler. “We dug down a little bit better defensively, got some stops, started playing in transition, and were able to take a one-point lead. I was really proud of how we showed a lot of persistence and resiliency.”
Parker lit it up from three and aggressively attacked the rim, including a tough finish that drew contact and ridiculous handles that led to a signature “CP” step-back jumper. She would finish the first half with 12 points.
Meanwhile, after taking an unintentional elbow to the face from teammate Ogwumike, Chelsea Gray returned to hit back-to-back three-pointers that proved instrumental in getting the Sparks back in the game. Her gutsy three-point play tied the game in the waning seconds of the first half, and Los Angeles would hold a 46-45 advantage at halftime.
In the third quarter, Ogwumike took the momentum that the Sparks had earned themselves in the second quarter and took it to another level. She scored 11 of the Sparks first 13 points to start the third quarter, and the Sun simply had no answer for her aggressiveness in the paint during the final two quarters of play.
“She is just an energy player,” said Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas. “She is ready to do whatever it is—whether it’s getting a steal, getting a rebound, getting an offensive rebound, getting to the rim. She’s a great screener and moves well without the ball. So with all the weapons, they have out there, how do you guard any one person?”
Ogwumike’s 29 point performance marks a season-high, and she also added 11 rebounds, marking her fourth double-double of the year and third straight game with 20 or more points.
“I think the last couple of games, you’re starting to see the games she had a year ago when she was MVP,” stated Agler on Ogwumike’s consistency. “Where she was just so persistent around the basket, she was so tough to defend, she was on the boards, and she can hit threes now. She can step out, stretch the defense, and hit three-point shots.”
While Ogwumike was dazzling, Parker also deserves enormous credit for her role in the turnaround. After scoring 10 or fewer points in each of her last two games, she responded with a complete performance, posting 20 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and two blocks.
“When she’s really engaged, she’s a facilitator as much as she is a scorer and a rebounder,” said Agler. “The way I look at things is that the real elite players play elite, but they also make their teammates better. That’s what Candace does. She can get shots for other people—just like that big three that Riquna hit. So she sees the floor so well and of course the combination of her and Nneka. They bring the best out of each other.”
Ultimately, it was the Sparks’ veteran leadership in Parker and Ogwumike that catalyzed the difference-making second quarter and allowed them to stifle what had appeared to be an infallible mid-season surge by the Connecticut Sun.
Los Angeles looks to extend their home winning streak on Monday against the Indiana Fever at 10:30 p.m. ET while Connecticut wraps up a brutal five-game road stretch and heads home to face the San Antonio Stars on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.