Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike achieves milestone in loss to Sky – Orange County Register

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LOS ANGELES — It was an impressive, but unsustainable start for the Sparks against defending WNBA champion Chicago Sky in an 80-68 loss Thursday night at Crypto.com Arena.

The Sparks led 17-16 after one quarter before the Sky outscored them 52-31 over the next two periods, handing the Sparks (10-14) their third straight loss. The Sparks shot 39.4% from the field, while the Sky shot 48.5% overall and 42.1% from 3-point range.

The Sparks appeared energized by the return of star Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, who missed the final game, a 94-81 loss to the Washington Mystics, with an illness unrelated to COVID.

Ogwumike had 16 points and eight rebounds against the Sky and joined Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker as one of three players to score 5,000 points in a Sparks uniform.

“I’m proud to have done all of that with a Sparks jersey,” Ogwumike said. “It’s really important to me. Legacy is important to me and being in the company of Lisa and CP is really huge.

However, league leader Sky (18-6) found his groove on a 19-7 run to start the second quarter against the shorthanded Sparks. 32-year-old rookie Rebekah Gardner, a UCLA grad, came off the bench and recorded her first career double-double with a career-high 18 points and 10 rebounds to beat Chicago on a rare night off. for two-time league MVP Parker.

“With Candace, our goal was really to double up a bit and trample her a bit and she overshot a lot,” Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams said. “Her 11 rebounds are almost like points…she’s such a phenomenal player, but I think we’ve done a good job of containing her and having her be selective in what she does with her shots.”

Gardner hit 8 of 11 shots, including several spinning layups and had four offensive boards and four assists while Parker was held scoreless with 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. She missed her 11 shots in 27 minutes.

“That’s awesome,” Sparks guard Jordin Canada said when asked if he held Candace Parker scoreless. “She’s one of the best players in the league right now, one of the best players to ever play the game and the fact that she went 0 for 11 is a testament to how locked in defensively we were. .

“I think the whole game we had great defense but the second quarter is what got us and a bit into the third but to keep one of the best players down to zero points… I think that’s great.”

Ogwumike agreed with Canada on the feat, especially after Parker scored 31 points and had 11 rebounds against the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday.

“To do that, I think it’s a good sign, it’s a good sign of what we’re doing defensively,” Ogwumike continued.

However, Sky manager James Wade said Parker always made winning plays.

“It’s a game that embodies who she is because she can affect the game in different ways,” Wade explained. “She doesn’t need to score the ball to be effective.

“I thought she affected the game in other ways. She helped us improve and that’s all you can ask for, especially when your shot doesn’t fall, sometimes those days come. That’s always great if they happen in a win.

The Sparks were without starting center Liz Cambage, who did not play, after being placed in health and safety protocols Thursday afternoon. Cambage is the second Sparks player in two weeks to miss time with a COVID-related illness.

Williams knew the presence of the 6-foot-9 center would be missed by the team, but he looked forward to the solid play of the Ogwumike sisters. In 30 minutes of playing time, Chiney Ogwumike recorded his fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

“These two young women are doing a great job complementing each other with the high low pass,” Williams said in a pregame interview. “Defensively, they’re in tune with each other and they’re just great leaders.”

Katie Lou Samuelson and Brittney Sykes each scored 12 points for the Sparks. Kristi Toliver started but only played nine minutes and did not return in the second half due to a leg injury, according to Williams.

The Sparks couldn’t take advantage of Parker’s struggles to score and were still trailing 37-28 at halftime.

Wade said it was vital for him to put no pressure on Parker in her second game in the arena she called home for the first 13 years of her decorated career.

“When a player has been so good for so long, you let their motivation be their motivation, especially in a place where they’ve practically built,” Wade said in a pre-game interview. “I just try to get out of his way and give him the game plan and coach him like I coach everyone else, but at a certain point it’s a big confidence that’s there and you allow him to express herself when she hits the floor.”

Sky kept the pressure on after halftime and extended their lead to 68-48 going into the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Sparks guard Lexie Brown, who was a member of the Sky last season, received her 2021 WNBA championship ring ahead of the game from Wade, who is also his team’s general manager.

The Sparks next face the Indiana Fever on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., which will be their sixth game of a seven-game homestand.

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