The Sparks bounced back Monday night after a 1-2 road trip to thrash the Washington Mystics, 101-70.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike lead Los Angeles with 24 points and seven rebounds, while Kristi Toliver added 15 points and six assists. Michelle Snow was the high-scorer for Washington, with 15 points and seven boards.
The Sparks used strong defensive pressure to force 25 Mystics turnovers, they were 23 of 29 from the free throw line, and they scored 66 points in the paint. The home team also won the assists battle, with 25 to the visitor’s 16.
Coach Carol Ross said defense was the emphasis of the morning shoot-around, and was a way to put the two road losses behind them.
“We regrouped. We had a defensive shoot around where we didn’t even take a shot,” Ross said. “We refocused on what’s important, and I couldn’t be prouder of that defensive effort (tonight). It was fun to watch.”
Ogwumike said the team was satisfied with their efforts.
“Defense was a huge key of the game,” she said. “Coach Ross stressed that we had to keep people from doing their favorite things, and I think we did an amazing job of containing their best players. Now we need to create identity with that. The offense will come if the defense is there.”
The win is the Sparks’ fifth straight at home. The game marked the 12th consecutive road loss for the Mystics, dating back to last July, and their worst defeat of this season so far. Coach Trudi Lacey said the game was atypical of her team.
“I think tonight was uncharacteristic of the way that we played,” Lacey said. “Every single game that we’ve been in, we took the world champions to a buzzer beater; we beat Indiana; we had Chicago on the home floor; and to say that after eight games we haven’t reached our potential is sort of a stretch.”
Snow said the Mystics have to control turnovers.
“We know we have to take care of the ball, and we typically do that, so we just have to bounce back and get back to who we are and what we do best,” she said. “That is getting people easy baskets. They had 30 points in transition—that’s the game right there.”
The Sparks began last week’s East coast road trip with a strong win over top conference rival Connecticut, only to be blown out by Atlanta and upended by San Antonio in overtime. They played the second game without Ogwumike, who returned to Stanford to attend her graduation Sunday.
The rookie dazzled the crowd with several second-half plays, including two layups from improbable passes, and a leaping ball catch that she took all the way to the rack for two. She also guarded Washington’s top scorer, Crystal Langhorne, for much of the game, and helped limit her to two points. Ross said Ogwumike’s presence makes a big difference for the Sparks.
“No question about it, Nneka is quick and athletic,” Ross said. “She’s able to do a lot of things defensively that allow (Candace) Parker to do things defensively as well. It’s great to have her back. I asked her if she was going to be much smarter now that she had that diploma in her hand—and I think she was!”
“When you play defense like that you get fun offense. You get to get out there and have a little showtime. They looked like they really enjoyed it – taking that defense and turning it into offense.”
The Sparks continue their homestand, facing Tulsa tomorrow night. The Mystics travel to play Phoenix.