LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – This is gut-check time for the Los Angeles Sparks. No need to cry over spilled milk. The Sparks are in an odd predicament these days. Nneka Ogumike is out four to six weeks with a Grade 2 left knee sprain. Jasmine Walker, the No. 7 selection in the WNBA Draft, is done with her rookie season.
Walker tore the ACL in her right knee and will not be able to give the Sparks that extra inside presence on the block. And then there is the matter of Chiney Ogwumike missing time because of a right knee injury. For Sparks head coach Derek Fisher and his team, it’s been one thing after another.
— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) June 5, 2021
But in the last two games, the Sparks have managed to pull it together to hop on the winning side of the tracks when it comes to their won-loss record. Sure, the Sparks made easy work of the Indiana Fever on June 3 with a blowout win. In a matinee matchup against the Chicago Sky, the team that Sparks great Candace Parker spurned Los Angeles for, resiliency and getting it done would best describe Fisher’s ballclub.
“We have to play with a level of mental toughness,” Fisher said after the Sparks had escaped with a 68-63 win against the Chicago Sky at the Los Angeles Convention Center. “We’re hungry and we’re going to play each possession like it’s the last one of the game. We really want to have that mentality on both ends of the floor.”
The Sparks went into halftime of their game against the Sky with a comfortable 13-point lead. By the end of the third quarter that lead had evaporated to zero as Chicago rallied to tie the ballgame heading into the fourth quarter. Forced to play without three of their top players because of injuries, the Sparks went back to work and pulled off a narrow 68-63 win against the Sky.
The defense that guard Te’a Cooper put on Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot was a big reason why the Sparks didn’t fold. Vandersloot is a two-time WNBA All-Star. She’s been an All-WNBA First Team member the last two seasons. That didn’t matter to Cooper. In 33 minutes of game action, Vandersloot made 3 of 7 shots from the field for a grand total of seven points that she contributed.
“I didn’t think about that because we play defense as a team,” Cooper said. “But now that you put it that way it feels good that they believe in me to do that.”
Big-time block from Nia Coffey ? pic.twitter.com/7spWgnMO5j
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 5, 2021
The Sparks won because they scrapped and worked hard for it, especially after blowing a 13-point halftime lead. The Sparks and the Sky were all knotted up at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The momentum had clearly swung in Chicago’s favor by the time both teams got set to play the final quarter.
“I think we just talked about how it’s a game of runs and that was their run just to make sure that we lock in and just focus on what we need to do defensively and making sure to move the ball properly in the next quarter,” Sparks forward Nia Coffey said.
The Sparks eventually were able to settle things from the slashing, freewheeling ways of guard Erica Wheeler and Amanda Zahul B. Wheeler led the Sparks with 22 points, while Zahul B collected a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“Really proud and happy for her [Zahul B] in terms of the work that she’s doing,” Fisher said. “We all think of her at times as a pick and pop shooter, but she definitely brings a level of physicality to the glass that we need. In terms of the team’s effort, just getting this win today, it was all heart, just because they didn’t want to let each other down.”
As far as Wheeler, she did what Fisher expected from her.
“Fish talked to me about being aggressive, just attacking the bigs because we know bigs are not that fast,” Wheeler said. “That down drive is lethal, so with Fish telling me to go fast and move down it made me be super aggressive and that was my goal today and that’s what I did.”
The Sparks were able to beat Chicago for the third time this season because of two things: winning the turnover battle and playing lock-up defense. The Sparks did not allow Chicago to score more than 18 points in a period. Los Angeles forced Chicago into committing 18 turnovers for the game.
“We are really trying to make something happen out of it and score, Zahul B said. “I think the first time we played Chicago, we had a lot of turnovers, but we didn’t score as much on them. So that’s something that coach has really emphasized that he wants us to do.”
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I write about sports, racial and social justice, culture, and everything else in between. Beat writer for the Rams, Chargers, Lakers, and Clippers. Part of the inaugural Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship class. Howard University alum.