Los Angeles – The Connecticut Sun survived a second half rally by the Los Angeles Sparks Tuesday to close out a needed win and shock the home team, 73-72.
Chiney Ogwumike, who finished with 21 points on 9-14 shooting, scored on a driving layup with 18.5 seconds remaining to give her team the one-point advantage with the fifth of six lead changes in the match up. Chelsea Gray lost the ball out of bounds for the Sparks at 3.5 seconds, and Ogwumike’s sister Nneka stole the Sun’s inbound pass for the hosts, but missed a shot from two steps past the mid-court line as the final buzzer sounded.
Rachel Banham had 11 points for Connecticut, and Alex Bentley came off the bench for 10. Nneka Ogwumike netted 20 points for Los Angeles, while Candace Parker and Gray added 17 and 12, respectively.
The win was big for the Sun, who started the season 7-1, but have struggled since starting forward Alyssa Thomas has been out with a shoulder injury. They lost four straight games in mid-June as they have adjusted their lineup. During this road trip they have also been without starting guard Courtney Williams, who didn’t make the trip for personal reasons.
But despite the challenges, Connecticut coach Curt Miller said his team went into the game with a different mindset.
“There was a determination tonight,” he said. “We tried to get back to what we thought we could do. We did a decent job of staying with them in transition. We just stayed poised at the end, made plays at the end, while withstanding their defensive pressure.”
“We’ve been playing with a lot of baggage the last couple of games because we know we’re down a couple of bodies, and those situations make you figure out how to play together again,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “We came into this game with a positive energy. We really needed a win.”
The Sun, which won the previous game match up between the two teams in May, started strong and held the Sparks to just two field goals and eight points in the first quarter. They extended their lead to as much as 20 points in the second period, and took a 16-point advantage into the break.
Los Angeles went on a run to begin the third quarter, led by 12 points from Parker, and outscored the visitors, 26-13. The last frame of the match up was a basket-for-basket shootout.
Sparks coach Brian Agler said his team’s slow start proved to be too much to overcome.
“We played much better in the second half, but the tale of the game is how poorly we played in the first half,” he said. “We just didn’t play at our standard. We had mistakes on both ends, and just enough for them to regain the lead.”
“In the first half, we were lethargic. We were even lethargic defensively. In the second half we were more aggressive, and more on point. We gave ourselves a chance. I’m glad we did that. We fought back and had great effort there, especially in the third quarter. We took the lead and then couldn’t finish.”
Los Angeles went on a five-game winning streak in mid-June, but since then have lost four of their last seven games. They are now tied with the Phoenix Mercury for second in league standings.
Miller said Connecticut prepared for the game by “talking about having fun again.”
“We looked at some film from earlier in the season when we played LA….watching the bench, we reminded our team that we were 9-7 at this point last year,” Miller said. “This year we have a lot more favorable home schedule in the later part of the season than we did last year. So while it feels like we’re terrible, we’re right where we were last year.”
“It’s been hard playing without Alyssa, but we’re going to be OK. There have just been a lot of reminders that we go through peaks and valleys, and we’re going to do the best we can go weather them.”
Miller said the parity in the WNBA this season is unlike years past.
“Anyone can beat anyone in this league,” he said. “We tried to take the weight off their shoulders that we had to be perfect. We had to get back to playing our style, and it was good enough.”
The Sun head to Phoenix to take on the Mercury Thursday, while the Sparks will be in Minnesota the same night to face the Lynx, who also lost Tuesday.