For some Sparks-Lynx players, the Finals matchup goes even deeper

Maya Moore and Nneka Ogwumike have played against each other for many years. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/
Maya Moore and Nneka Ogwumike have played against each other for many years. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

Some have pegged the Sparks-Lynx Finals series – and their rivalry in general the last two years – as one of the best in women’s sports history. Players on both teams have commented on how evenly they match up with one another, at every position, and it shows in the statistics.

Over the last 12 games between Los Angeles and Minnesota, each has scored 908 points. Has that ever happened before? Maybe it’s because players on both teams are so familiar with one another.

“We both know each other so well; we both know the spots on the floor that the other person wants to get to. We know our offenses,” Candace Parker told me Saturday.

But for six players on the two teams, that lineage extends much further back than recent WNBA play.

In the spring of 2004, both Alana Beard and Lindsay Whalen were college seniors. Beard played for Duke and was a national star at one of the country’s top programs. Whalen suited up for upstart Minnesota. The Blue Devils made the Final Four in Beard’s sophomore and junior years, and were favored to not only make it again in her last year, but win the National Championship. Whalen and the Gophers, however, pulled off the inconceivable in the Elite 8, taking down Duke and sending Beard walking off the court to sob on the shoulder of coach Gail Goestenkors.

Last year when the Sparks beat the Lynx for the WNBA Championship, Beard finally had a chance to return the favor. She pondered the irony of the situation afterward.

That fall after Beard and Whalen were both drafted into the pro ranks, two highly-recruited athletes began their college freshmen seasons – Candace Parker at Tennessee and Sylvia Fowles at LSU. In their junior years both teams went to the Final Four, where the Tigers lost in the semifinals and the Lady Vols went on to claim the title. The next spring both teams again found themselves in the Final Four, and this time they played each other in the semis. It was a painfully low-scoring affair that saw Tennessee win on a put-back shot that was eerily similar to the one Nneka Ogwumike delivered for the Sparks against the Lynx last fall, which gave them the WNBA Championship.

Finally, there is the history between Ogwumike and Maya Moore. In 2010, when Ogwumike was a sophomore and Moore was a junior, the UConn Huskies beat the Stanford Cardinal in the National Championship game in a low-scoring, hard-fought matchup. But eight months later, on Dec. 30, Ogwumike and the Cardinal extracted their revenge when they beat the Huskies and snapped their then-best 90-game winning streak. Ogwumike helped defend Moore, and kept her scoreless for most of the first half, causing her so much frustration that when she finally did make a bucket, she screamed.

There is team history, too.

Parker and Essence Carson know each other from the Tennessee-Rutgers rivalry, and are both 31 years old. Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Sims played for two top college programs, and are also the same age.

Moore and Renee Montgomery played together at UConn, as did Fowles and Seimone Augustus at LSU.

So if this Sparks-Lynx rivalry feels like a family feud, it is.