Sparks snap four-game skid with 86-74 win over Aces

Liz Cambage drives against Candace Parker. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Liz Cambage drives against Candace Parker. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Los Angeles – The Los Angeles Sparks snapped a four-game losing streak Thursday with a convincing 86-74 win over the Las Vegas Aces.

Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray and Riquna Williams each scored 18 points for Los Angeles, while rookie Kalani Brown had 12 points and Chiney Ogwumike grabbed 10 rebounds for what was a slow start for the team.

After the hosts began by shooting 30 percent opening frame, Parker heated up in the second quarter for eight points, to help the Sparks to a 40-34 halftime lead. They kept up the pace in the third period, with Williams, Brown and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt combining for 19 of the team’s 26 points.

Williams kept up her assault in the fourth quarter, scoring nine points, while Los Angeles held the Aces to 37 percent shooting and forced six of their 19 turnovers on the night.

Liz Cambage led Las Vegas with 18 points, while Dearica Hamby had 13 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, and A’ja Wilson added 13 points.

It was the home debut for Parker, who played in just her fourth game of the season after sustaining a hamstring injury in training camp. It was also a return for Alana Beard, who missed four match ups with an injury. Nneka Ogwumike sat out to rest.

Coach Derek Fisher said Williams emerged at a key time.

“She is a dynamic scorer, and a player that plays aggressively. She has a physical toughness to her game on both ends that translates well for our group,” he said. “We need another player other than Chelsea that can break the defense down and go make a play for herself. Riquna is a player that feels more in her comfort zone coming off of the bench.”

The win came after two days of intense practices, which Fisher said had been missing during the stretch of losses, which included two routs at the hands of the Mystics and the Storm.

“The game requires a lot of energy,” Fisher said. “If you don’t practice those things, it’s hard (not to have) natural game slippage. For us over that 10-day period, with five games and travel, we got lost and got soft in that sense, in terms of physical ability to sustain effort.”

They key in going forward for the Sparks is balancing an extremely talented roster.

“Because of our IQ, offensively we tend to overthink a lot of things,” Fisher said. “So, we try to convince everybody to keep it simple.”

“Great players have a bigger reach to the different things that they can do. Great teams and great players are fundamentally sound, they keep it simple, and they do those things really well. Defensively, we talk about keeping it simple and being there for your teammate. It’s not as much about the strategy of the coverage every time.”

The loss for the Aces ended a second consecutive two-game winning streak in what has been an up-and-down season for a young team, which faced high expectations going into the year.

After acquiring Cambage in a trade with Dallas, they were deemed contenders for the WNBA Championship. Now at 6-5, Las Vegas is tied with the Minnesota Lynx for fifth place in league standings.

Coach Bill Laimbeer said the youth of the team is showing.

“We’re still learning each other, but we also have to learn how to win and how to compete in games like this,” he said. “You can’t make too many mistakes, and we’re making too many mistakes mentally and physically, and it’s costing is right now.”

Wilson, in her sophomore season, is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, as she was last year. Her statistics in both categories are down, however, as she is learning how to share the load with 6-8 Cambage.

“We’re in a league where everyone is elite. You have to be on your A game every single night, every play, or you’ll get beat,” Wilson said. “We have to hold each other accountable and talk to one another more.”

Laimbeer said his team had a poor response to the urgency of Los Angeles.

“They wanted (the win) more,” he said. “We turned the ball over way too many times. We have to get control of that.”

Though some may be surprised that the second-year franchise Aces aren’t dominating at this point in the season, Laimbeer is not.

“None of these players have won anything in professional basketball,” he said. “They have to learn. I always tell everyone, if it happens in year two, great. But we’re still building for year three.”

Las Vegas hosts the Indiana Fever Saturday, while Los Angeles is at home against the Chicago Sky Sunday.