Sparks victorious, but still missing key pieces in final preseason tune up

Tiffany Jackson-Jones prepares to score. Photo by Benita West/T.G.Sportstv1.
Tiffany Jackson-Jones prepares to score. Photo by Benita West/T.G.Sportstv1.

Pasadena – Playing in their final tune up before the regular season opener next weekend, the Los Angeles Sparks were finally able to grab a preseason victory, defeating the short-handed San Antonio Stars, 73-59.

Rookie Mikaela Ruef led all Los Angeles scorers with 18 points off the bench, while Odyssey Sims added 12 on four for eight shooting. Isabelle Harrison was the only double-digit scorer for the visitors, with 22 points.

In what was a home game away from home at Pasadena City College, the reigning champion Sparks showed they are ready to defend their title, even without most of their veteran core on hand.

San Antonio scored first, but back-to-back layups by Riquna Williams and Tiffany Jackson-Jones gave Los Angeles the lead. The Stars fought their way back to a tie three minutes later, but Williams answered from behind the arc to give the hosts a 9-6 advantage. The Sparks never trailed again, and padded their lead to as much as 20 points late in the game.

It was not only the first win of the preseason, but it provided the first look at seeing Sims, Williams, and Chelsea Gray, who just returned to the United States a few days ago, all playing together. Williams had sat out the first two games last week with a strained back. Both she and Sims are newcomers to the Sparks roster this season.

Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said he was happy to see all three playing together.

“Riquna and Odyssey are new, and Riquna is coming off an injury,” Agler said. “It’s good to get those people minutes. Were a week out from the season, so we don’t have a lot of time.”

The Sparks were once again playing without veterans Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, Alana Beard, Essence Carson, and Jantel Lavendar. Ogwumike and Beard are back in the U.S., but  haven’t returned to the team yet. Parker, Carson and Lavender are all wrapping up overseas play in Turkey. The timetable for their return is not known.

Agler is deciding who will fill their shoes until they arrive, and he said the win was a good sign.

“That’s sort of the positive of not having everybody here,” he said. “It forces you really to take a good, long, hard look at multiple players.”

“We’re a week away from the game, and we’re not going to have three of our starters the first game, and maybe not the second game either, depending on the timing of their playoffs. I don’t like that part of it, but it’s going to force us to try and get other people ready.”

Sims said the team’s primary focus is just getting better everyday.

“We can’t worry about who’s not here,” she said. “We have to play and worry about the team we have now. Everything after that, when the other players do come we’ll worry about it when they do get here.”

With the loss, the Stars ended their preseason 1-1. They were without top rookie Kelsey Plum, who sprained her ankle in practice Thursday. Seven other players did not suit up, including three starters from last season.

The Sparks cut Ah-Ra Go following the game, and their roster now stands at 17. WNBA teams must cut their rosters to 12 by May 12.

Both Los Angeles and San Antonio open regular season play this Saturday. The Sparks host the Seattle Storm, while the Stars open with a visit to the New York Liberty.