Despite missing five players, the Sparks outlasted Dallas 69-64 behind 22 points and seven rebounds from all-star forward Nneka Ogwumike. The Sparks trailed by as many as 16 in the second quarter but outscored Dallas 24-9 in the third.
“I think nothing is different if we have 12 people or if we have eight,” Ogwukime said. “That’s kind of what we’re establishing right now, is that our culture is the same no matter who is available.”
L.A. handed Dallas a WNBA-worst 13th loss with just eight available players. Candace Parker (ankle), Alana Beard (hamstring), Alexis Jones (knee sprain), Maria Vadeeva (knee) and Riquna Williams (10-game suspension) all missed Thursday’s matinee action.
Ogwumike, who scored 13 of her 22 points in the third quarter, and guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (4 points) each played 37 minutes. Ogwumike instructed Sparks head coach Derek Fisher to only substitute her out when she asked, which didn’t happen much.
Nneka’s sister, Chiney, scored 12 points, snagged six rebounds and dished out two assists. Point guard Chelsea Gray posted 11 points and nine boards in 30 minutes. Guard Marina Mabrey supplied 12 points, completing the Sparks’ quartet of double-figure scorers.
L.A. improves to 10-7 overall and 5-2 at home, moving them past Seattle into the Western Conference 2-seed.
Wings forward Isabelle Harrison scored a team-high 14 points. Harrison also nabbed nine rebounds, distributed four assists and collected two steals. Guard Allisha Gray also finished in double figures with 11. Dallas falls to 0-9 on the road and has now lost six of seven.
The first two quarters pointed to the Wings’ depth advantage granting them an easy victory. Dallas led by four after one and 1o at halftime, out rebounding L.A. by four. The Wings gained a 13-6 edge in assists and shot 50 percent from the field to the Sparks’ 38 percent.
But, the Sparks came roaring out of the gates in the third and quickly cut Dallas’ lead to four.
“Let’s just say Coach Fish was pretty motivated at halftime to wake us up out of our slumber,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “When we play defense like we played in the third quarter, that’s our identity.”
After giving up 42 first-half points, L.A. held Dallas to 22 in the second half. The Wings finished shooting on a 39 percent field goal clip and were held to 5-of-17 from 3-point land. Dallas held advantages in rebounding and assists, but turned the ball over 17 times.
Dallas’ late-game struggles could be traced to the Sparks sellout crowd of over 14,00 people, many of whom were kids. Thousands of kids from local summer camps attended as part of the Sparks’ “camp day” festivities.
“It’s really great to see so many kids come and have a good time because that’s the next wave of fans,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “They’re going to go back and remember, ‘hey, I went to a Sparks game,’ and break down those barriers.”
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.