Los Angeles – The return of their full starting lineup Sunday meant a return to the win column for the Los Angeles Sparks, as they routed the Las Vegas Aces, 87-71.
Forward Nneka Ogwumike took the court after missing three games with a back injury to help snap a two-game losing streak and avenge a loss to the same team two nights earlier. Jantel Lavender came off the bench to lead the Sparks, with a season-high 17 points, while Chelsea Gray scored 13 and Ogwumike and Candace Parker each added 12.
Los Angeles jumped out to a quick lead, thanks to two three-point shots from Gray. Aces starting forward A’ja Wilson picked up two quick fouls by the 6:33 mark and sat for the rest of the quarter. The two teams traded runs, but the Sparks stepped on the gas in the second period and inflated their lead to 59-37 at the break.
The visitors went on a 12-0 run in the third quarter, highlighted by two Wilson jump shots, to pull within 15 points at the 3:06 mark. But the closest they could get was 12 points in the last frame, as the Los Angeles defense forced them into 21 turnovers.
Tamera Young led Las Vegas with 16 points, while Kayla McBride had 13, Kelsey Plum 12 and Wilson, 10.
Sparks coach Brian Agler said Friday’s loss was a motivator coming into the rematch.
“We just didn’t play as well, and it resonated with the players,” he said. “We had a chance to group and study our game plays and improve.”
Agler said Ogwumike’s presence was important because she brings energy to the lineup and is a great communicator. Ogwumike said Los Angeles played better defense and were able to make changes during the game.
“We did a really good job adjusting,” she said. “They’re a talented and young team….and we did a good job of controlling that today.”
Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said the Sparks defense made the difference in the game.
“We weren’t ready for their pressure,” he said. “I don’t know why we weren’t ready – I warned them – but we kind of fell apart. We are a young team, we are going to learn form experience, hopefully. We just didn’t handle the pressure, and it’s a poise issue.”
The win puts Los Angeles as 12-5 and ties them for second in league standings. Las Vegas falls to 6-12 on the year.