Silver Stars 86, Sparks 77

The Sparks started out strongly enough. They built a 10-point lead mid-way into the first quarter, largely on the strength of play of Delisha Milton-Jones, who just returned to town, and Marie Ferdinand-Harris. M-J, in particular, was on fire to start. Then the first five – Ticha Penicheiro, Noelle Quinn, Rashidat Junaid, M-J and F-H – were switched out for Betty Lennox, Tina Thompson, Bianca Thomas, Andrea Riley and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. The momentum changed.

Riley held her own against Stars veteran Helen Darling, and had one brilliant steal and drive for the bucket where she got fouled. But San Antonio began boxing out and they slowly crawled back. A crazy Darling three-pointer at the buzzer tied it at 25.

The second quarter saw Shannon Bobbitt, Long Beach State’s own Karina Figueroa, and Aisha Mohommed for the first time. M-J and Quinn filled the other two spots. Bobbitt started self-destructing again, picking up two quick fouls and committing two turnovers. When she got the second foul, Coach Jennifer Gillom looked like she was going to flip out. But then Bobbitt redeemed herself when she stole the ball, drove and got fouled. The Sparks were ahead 37-30 at the 6:05 mark, but again, they let their opponents back into the game by standing around and not boxing out. At the end of the second, Stars players were able to get three rebounds in a row and they tied it up at 43 for the break.

The Stars lead by one for most of the third quarter; whenever the Sparks would score, they answered. LA’s defense was horrible. There was one play where a Silver Star stole the ball, and everyone just stood there and watched her take it to the rack. Members of the audience behind me were saying, “are you going to roll out a red carpet for them too?” and the like. To think that last season it seemed like all the Sparks had was defense, and now this year maybe all we have is offense? Craziness. Bobbitt also had another coast-to-coast drive to the bucket for the and-one….more on that shortly.

Going into the last quarter with the Stars ahead 62-59, the score stayed there for almost two minutes before M-J unleashed a three. There were some beautiful moments. My favorite was Penicheiro’s dish to M-J from the top of the key, then her sweep to the right wing to take the ball back when M-J was locked down on D. Penicheiro drove to the hoop, and as her defender swooped in on her, she dished to Junaid in the center of the key, who swished it in.

I love watching veterans.

But the Sparks let them pull away, and a five-point San Antonio lead at 2:06 ballooned to the nine-point win that it was. Ferdinand-Harris lead the Sparks with 13 points, while M-J had 11 and Quinn added 10. Belinda Snell was the high-scorer for the Stars, with 17, and Edgwie Lawson-Wade put up 15.

Thoughts/observations/questions:

I was impressed with Riley. Some have liked to characterize her as a loose cannon, but I didn’t see any indication of that today. She was aggressive, but she never looked out of control. With some more work, she’d be an excellent back up to Penecheiro.

Mohommed scored the most quiet six points I’ve ever seen.

Figueroa wasn’t as impressive as she was in the Sparks’ practice the other night.

Junaid has potential, but she’s slow getting up the court.

Bobbitt should really stop the biceps-flexing and gloating after her coast-to-coasts. It’s embarrassing.

Why didn’t Candace Parker play? She wore street clothes today. I had been so looking forward to her debut. She was so thin I didn’t recognize her at first. All those pictures from Russia, where it seemed like she didn’t have an ounce of body fat on her, were no lie.

The Sparks are loaded, no doubt about it. I just hope that this coach can utilize that talent to the fullest more so than the last coach.

Box score.

Lisa Leslie came in just before the game started, and I don’t think she’d seen Candace Parker since the youngster got back from Russia yesterday. They had a hug.

They also had a giggle at Leslie’s daughter, who is getting taller and taller.

The Sparks huddle immediately before tipoff.

Los Angeles native Noelle Quinn gets a rebound. She four of those and 10 points on the day.

Jennifer Gillom is a bit more of a hands-on coach than Sparks fans have been used to seeing the last few years.

Andrea Riley, wearing the 10 jersey, has some great defense.

She likes to be disruptive, and I like that. Here she was called for a foul from behind, on the Stars’ Helen Darling.

Karina Figueroa had her own cheering section on her college home court (seen here with the Stars’ Ruth Riley).

Figueroa was also playing good D.

Gillom and assistant coaches Steve Smith and Jim Saia talk outside the locker room at halftime before going in.

Ticha Penicheiro, seen here throwing a perfect pass to Quinn, had three points and five rebounds. She was also absolutely in charge on the court today. Hey, the Sparks have an experienced PG!

Quinn misses in the second half.

Candace Parker was so lean I didn’t recognize her from the back at first. This is a good angle to show how in shape she looks right now.

Rashidat Junaid started the game, and takes a run at the hoop here.

Marie Ferdinand-Harris puts up a long two. She had 13 points on the day.

Sitting in the end seats were former USC coach Mark Trakh, in the red shirt, and Long Beach State Coach Jody Wynn (ponytail), who was his assistant at SC.