After winning first prize last season, the Los Angeles Sparks get to bring around their matching set of WNBA MVPs up front, Nneka Ogwumike (regular season) and Candace Parker (finals), and get to bring out the best in the competition, although that’s nothing new.
“Teams get hyped up to play us and want to compete against us, so I don’t think that’s different,” Parker said last week. “I think sometimes the battle is more so within. It’s battling complacency.”
Now it was the Liberty’s turn to battle the defending champs, who were making a stop Tuesday night at the Garden. Both teams had split their first four games.
The Liberty was right there, down by two after three quarters. But the Sparks didn’t look complacent in the fourth when they took charge. Ogwumike scored nine of her 22 points in the final period, Parker contributed 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Los Angeles claimed a 90-75 victory.
“We’ve got to get mentally stronger,” Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said.
Tina Charles scored 25 and Epiphanny Prince added 21 for the Liberty. Now it gets harder for this team. Two important pieces are taking a timeout and heading overseas.
Prince, who took over at the point after Brittany Boyd suffered an Achilles tear in Game 2, and backup center Kia Vaughn are leaving for the EuroBasket Tournament. Prince will play for Russia and Vaughn for the host Czech Republic in the 2018 World Cup qualifier that runs from June 16-25.
“In previous years, I would leave before the (WNBA) games actually started,” said Prince, a naturalized Russian citizen. “To me, now it’s hard because I got my feet wet, committed to my team. I’ve got to hit a reset button to go over there and be committed to a different team.”
The Sparks staged an 11-2 run to go up 63-56 with 1:36 left in the third. The Liberty immediately countered with an 8-0 burst. But Ogwumike’s three-point play put Los Angeles up 66-64 after three.
Ogwumike scored off an offensive rebound to start the fourth and L.A. was off on an 11-0 run. Alana Beard followed by cashing in a pair of turnovers for five points. When Parker hit a fallaway jumper, it was 77-64 with 6:54 remaining.
“They got more aggressive,” Prince said.
Charles dominated early on, hitting her first five shots and scoring 11 to power the Liberty to a 13-4 advantage. By halftime, the advantage was just 38-36.
“We have to dig deep and work harder and (be) smarter,” Laimbeer said about life now without three of his top seven players. “We’re going to take our lumps, I assume. It’s going to be tough. But we can win some games.”