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Cooper’s breakout performance, Zahui B.’s block key Sparks win

Te’a Cooper and Karlie Samuelson notched career highs in scoring while Amanda Zahui B. silenced a red-hot Tina Charles with a crucial block to preserve a Los Angeles Sparks victory over the Washington Mystics.

Washington Mystics v Los Angeles Sparks
From left to right: Erica Wheeler, Amanda Zahui B., Te’a Cooper and Nia Coffey.
Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Te’a Cooper upped her career high in points by nine with 26, Amanda Zahui B. (17 points) blocked a 3-point attempt by the red-hot Tina Charles that would have tied it with 36.5 seconds to go and the Los Angeles Sparks held on to defeat the Washington Mystics 89-82 on Thursday night at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“I don’t even try to think about points,” Cooper said. “I think that my energy felt good and it kind of fed into my teammates. And they believed in me. And it was another opportunity, it was another game, another 40 minutes to give it my all. And that’s really what I was focused on. Whether I score 26 or two or whatever, I just want my energy to be there. I want to leave the court saying I gave my all.”

Brittney Sykes was guarding Leilani Mitchell right before Mitchell passed the ball to Charles in the right corner. Her defense was phenomenal and gave Amanda Zahui B. the opportunity to see the pass coming and go up for the finger tip block. It also wound the shot clock down so that after Mitchell picked up the loose ball and missed a desperation mid-range shot that grazed the bottom of the net, a shot-clock violation was called.

Two free throws from Erica Wheeler and two from Cooper then iced the game.

Charles finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, which matched her season averages if you round to the closest whole number. She leads the league in scoring and is tied for fourth in rebounding. She had 30-point double-doubles in her two previous games.

“(Amanda) was fantastic,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said of Zahui B.’s effort on Charles. “Tina is a Hall-of-Fame player and she’s seen all the coverages, all the matchups. No matter what you do she's gonna score between 20 and 30. So she scored 25 tonight, but Amanda made her work for those points. Especially in the second half, really getting into her space, making it difficult for her to get low-post position. And (Amanda’s) confidence defensively just continued to grow as the game went on.”

Mitchell upped her season high in scoring, set in the previous Mystics game, by seven with 26 points.

The Sparks were 1-4 in their previous five games and really needed the win to improve to 6-7. They are now in a three-way tie for eighth place and are just a half a game behind the fifth-place Mystics (7-7).

Washington, like LA, has been dealing with a lot of injuries and was again without Elena Delle Donne, Myisha Hines-Allen, Natasha Cloud, Erica McCall and Kiara Leslie. However, it had defeated the first-place Seattle Storm (12-3) in its previous game without those five players and had the chance to remain in fourth place with a win. Instead, the Chicago Sky (9-7) moved ahead of them with their 91-68 victory over the New York Liberty (7-8).

The Sparks snapped a three-game Mystics winning streak.

Washington was up by six after one, which was disappointing for it because it had led by 11 twice, including with 54.1 seconds to go in the frame before a Cooper layup and a Nia Coffey three. The Mystics led 8-0 early. Charles had five of those points and 13 in the period.

The Sparks won the second by 11 to go up five at halftime. They again closed out the quarter strong, this time with a 6-0 run. Kristi Toliver made a three with 32.9 seconds to go and Karlie Samuelson followed with a triple at 3.5 seconds remaining.

LA led by just one entering the fourth. Samuelson (3-of-3 from deep and 5-of-5 from the field) scored six of her career-high 13 points early in the final frame. Both 3-pointers put the Sparks up by six.

Samuelson had been in and out for the Sparks in recent seasons, playing in 20 games in 2018 (4.2 minutes per game) and three games in 2019 (12 minutes per game).

“Karlie’s, and I’ve told her this directly, she’s everything that’s right about the game of basketball and team sports,” Fisher said. “When you have people that are so committed to doing everything they can do to help the team, to make every sacrifice, to give up themselves repeatedly, even at times where it may have cost her opportunities because she wasn’t trying to do more and show more of what she can do, that’s how much doing the right thing means to her. ... It’s a great lesson in terms of what professionalism actually is.”

Later in the fourth, Wheeler continued her clutch pay this season with a three that made it 82-77 Sparks with 2:22 to go before the Mystics cut it to 82-80 and 84-82.

Cooper dished out a team-high four assists while Zahui B. blocked a team-high three shots. Sykes notched 14 points.

The Sparks won despite being out rebounded 38-22. They had 53 bench points.

LA stars Nneka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike both sat out due to injury.

“I believe this group has shown a great deal of character and fight, really trying to battle through everything,” Fisher said. “Really proud of the group just for hanging in this week.”