Los Angeles, Calif. – Four double-digit scorers led the Los Angeles Sparks past the New York Liberty Tuesday, 100-77, en route to an 8-0 start.
Jantel Lavender came off the bench for 22 points and Kristi Toliver added 19, of which 15 came in the second half. Nneka Ogwumike had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Essence Carson put up 15 points.
The Sparks are one win shy of tying a franchise record for most consecutive wins, set in both 2001 and 2003.
The hosts maintained a small lead throughout the first quarter, but broke it open in the second, outscoring the visitors, 24-15. They took a 51-38 advantage into the break. Los Angeles shot a blistering 60 percent in the third period, while clamping down on defense and limiting New York to 33 percent shooting and forcing seven turnovers. They lead 82-52 going into the final quarter.
The Sparks emptied the bench over the last several minutes of the game, but still maintained up to a 32-point lead. They shot a season-high 41 field goals on the night, for 55.4 percent, and had a 30-9 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Liberty center Tina Charles and guard Sugar Rodgers averaged 24 and 16 points per game, respectively, going into the game, but were held to 7 and 8 on the night. Shavonte Zellous lead the team with 12 points, while Kiah Stokes added 11.
Los Angeles coach Brian Agler was especially pleased about his team’s defense, and their assists.
“I like how we defended – especially in the second half and third quarter,” he said. “We responded to what we had talked about at halftime. I like how we shared the ball. Thirty assists is a highlight for us.”
The Sparks have fielded many strong teams the last several years, but have been largely inconsistent. Their strong start this season has caught many by surprise.
Ogwumike said every team member is dialed in.
“It’s kind of an uncharted focus that we are bringing,” she said. “It’s interesting because we have had it before, off the court and maybe not on, or on the court and maybe not off, but now it’s clicking. We are just letting it flow.“
Ogwumike said the Sparks are working together and care only about the win.
“It can be anybody’s night with the squad we have,” she said. “We just roll with the punches and try to keep each other up.”
Carson said Sparks players are great both on and off the court.
“Not only are they great basketball players but they have great basketball IQ, and when you put all of that together, it’s easy to build chemistry quickly,” Carson said. “We still have a lot of work to do, and that chemistry can only get better.”
Zellous said Los Angeles started the game strong and kept up the pressure.
“We came out a little sluggish; they did what they were supposed to do,” Zellous said. “When we were down they kept putting in another and another (basket). They built the lead.”
“It’s something we have to learn coming to the West Coast. The Sparks are a good team. We can’t just let down when things aren’t going our way, we need to stay together.”
Lavender’s 22 points was her season high. After leading the team early last season in the absence of forward Candace Parker, she became a reserve this year when Los Angeles signed veteran Carson. Agler said Lavender has dealt with the change gracefully.
“Jantel’s role has changed from last year, and she’s done a really good job of accepting that and being patient,” he said. “She’s a great player…..she’s proven that before.”
Carson said the Sparks are taking one game at a time and not looking too far ahead. Ogwumike agreed, and said they still have much more in the tank.
“I think we still have much more to give,” Ogwumike said. “We’re excited, and each day we’re just trying to get better.”
The Sparks head to Dallas Saturday to take on the Wings.