by Sue Favor
Los Angeles, Calif. – Lindsey Harding’s season-high 22 points Sunday helped pace the Los Angeles Sparks past their own defensive lapses and the surging Washington Mystics, 79-69.
Candace Parker added 20 points for the Sparks, while Crystal Langhorne and rookie Tayler Hill each put up 16 for the Mystics.
The two teams played opposite sides of the spectrum: Los Angeles started strongly, and in the fourth quarter had to hold off the Mystics, who had begun slowly and then outscored their opponents in the second and fourth quarters.
Sparks coach Carol Ross characterized it as a tough win.
“I really thought we came out well,” she said. “Early on we had control of the boards and set the tempo of the game. We lost that in the second half, which made it a dicier finish, but I’m proud we ground this one out.”
Los Angeles had an 11-point lead at the end of the first quarter, but Washington started the second period on a 7-0 run before the Sparks responded. The Mystics cut their lead to single digits three more times, but two Parker baskets in the last minute pushed the Los Angeles lead to 10 at the break.
The third quarter belonged to the Sparks, who pushed their lead to as much as 20 midway through. In the fourth, the Mystics closed the lead to eight points seven different times, but they weren’t able to get closer.
Los Angeles has now won three straight, while Washington has lost three in a row, all on the road. Going into the trip, the Mystics had been 4-1. Coach Mike Thibault said their troubles are a combination of factors.
“Our biggest problem is how we’ve started all three games,” he said. “We had a bad start in Seattle, we had a bad start here and we had a bad start in Phoenix.”
Thibault acknowledged that the Mercury and Sparks were quality teams, and said he started Matee Ajavon and Michelle Snow against Los Angeles for a change. He said the newness of the team makeup is a challenge.
“This is a team that won five games last year. We have seven new players and we’re trying to sort things out,” Thibault said. “We have to just keep working on little stuff and get better at it. I knew when I took this (job) that it would be a work in progress.”
Harding, who also had seven assists, was 6-9 from the field and played all 40 minutes. She said her game plan was to shoot.
“I knew if I could hit from the outside it would open it up on the inside – especially for Candace. You have to be confident and take the shots,” Harding said.
The Mystics now return home to play, while the Sparks now hit the road, where they have yet to win this season. Friday they face Western Conference leaders Minnesota and Saturday, they take on Chicago. Ross said they know what they need to work on to prepare for the trip.
“On the road you have to rebound well, and we didn’t do that tonight, so we will need to work on that this week,” she said. “We have to stay focused and be prepared to get better.”
On the positives of the game
“We got better in some areas tonight. We rebounded the ball better, we kept LA off the offensive boards, we made them work for a lot of stuff. Our young players are getting better.”
On rookie Tayler Hill
“Tonight was her best game of the season by far. I think she’s put a lot of pressure on herself to make a big difference, and I keep trying to tell her, you’re one of 11. Tayler doesn’t have to carry the load on this team, nor do I expect her to. I took her out of the (starting) lineup tonight to let her get a breath, and coming off the bench she played much more relaxed tonight.”
Forward Crystal Langhorne
On the Sparks being more aggressive then the Mystics
“We just came out so slow. They pushed the ball at us and were really aggressive. On defense they were making us turn it over, and we just can’t come out that flat. We have to take care of the ball, execute and be in a better flow.”