Moments after taking the floor in her white, orange and purple Pat Summitt inspired kicks, Sparks perennial All-Star forward Candace Parker tossed a one-handed dime to Nneka Ogwumike for an easy transition bucket. It was that kind of four quarters for the Sparks, who beat the Phoenix Mercury 84-74 on Pat Summitt Leadership Night.
Parker and the Sparks emphasized the importance of people understanding “the who” behind Summitt on a night honoring her legacy and memory.
Through her passion of impacting people she has changed the game of basketball! Join me & the @la_sparks celebrating the life & legacy of the one & only #PatSummitt on 8/8/19. Get your ticket package incl a t-shirt, a poster signed by me, & more!” #LeftFootRightFootBreatheRepeat pic.twitter.com/XLlbrnOzrb
— Candace Parker (@Candace_Parker) July 24, 2019
“‘The who’ is a 100 percent graduation rate, ‘the who’ is ‘jalapeno corn’ when you first arrive on campus,” Parker said. “‘The who’ is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) August 7, 2019
Parker told the story of Summitt once being on her for not working hard. To prove a point, Parker showed up at 4:30 a.m. for a 6:00 a.m. practice. But, Parker arrived to the gym only to find Summitt already working inside her office.
“That’s what I want people to know and remember and to understand that she’s still able to inspire people even though she’s gone,” Parker said.
Parker captured back-to-back national championships under Summitt while playing at Tennessee. She scored 12 points, snagged 11 rebounds and dished out six assists on Thursday night for Summitt.
“Rebounds was huge with her,” Parker said. “She always talked about rebounding, so I made sure that I got into double digits in rebounding.”
All-Star Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, who led all scorers with 24 points, also discussed the impact Summitt made on her life. Ogwumike was recruited by Summitt at Tennessee, but selected to attend Stanford. The Cardinal played Summitt each year Ogwumike played college ball.
“She would encourage me even when we were playing against them,” Ogwumike said. “I found that very odd. I was playing against such a force of nature and a coach, a team and organization.”
After each time the two dueled, Summitt would pull Ogwumike aside to tell her how proud she was of the young player’s progress. Summitt became continually impressed with Ogwumike’s development, into the WNBA All-Star the world knows her as today.
“Obviously I’ve remained connected [to Summitt] because Candace is on the team,” Ogwumike said. “She’s an icon, really. And I just love how she lives on through Candace and then vicariously through our team because of [being] the greatest to go down [in history].
“To honor her, especially in the way that Candace pays homage to her and keeps her soul alive, is really special.”
Sydney Wiese finished as the third Sparks player in double figures, scoring 12.
WNBA leading scorer and Mercury center Britney Griner posted 27 points in 33 minutes. Phoenix shot just 34.9 percent from the field, while the Sparks netted 34.9 percent of their field goals and 27.3 percent of their 3-point attempts.
Three-time WNBA champion Diana Taurasi, who didn’t play and is day-to-day with a back injury, drew a technical foul with under one minute to play in the first quarter from the Mercury bench. The Sparks jumped out to a 10-point lead after one quarter behind 10 quick points from Ogwumike and Phoenix was unable to recover.
“It’s fun to get out and run,” Wiese said. “I think that’s one of our biggest strengths.”
The Mercury lost the second and third quarters by a combined four points, but couldn’t find the offensive punch needed to cut down L.A.’s double-digit advantage. Griner scored just four points in the first and third quarters and Phoenix finished the game with 14 turnovers.
In-place of Taurasi, Mercury guard Leilani Mitchell added 19 points. But outside of Griner and Mitchell, Phoenix struggled to produce offense. The rest of the Mercury roster scored a combined 28 points.
Phoenix cut the L.A. lead to eight with under two minutes left to play, but never pulled closer. The Mercury held advantages in free throw percentage, offensive rebounding and blocks, but L.A. dominated the rest of the stat sheet. The Sparks distributed seven more assists and led by as many as 22.
The Sparks earned some much needed breathing room in terms of holding a four-seed in the WNBA playoff standings, moving 1.5 games ahead of the Chicago Sky in the fifth spot. Should the Sparks hold onto that fourth slot, they’ll be granted a first round bye. L.A., now 8-2 at Staples Center, won its fourth consecutive game and improved to 9-1 against the Mercury since 2015.
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.