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Tina Charles' 27 points not enough as Liberty loses its 8th in row

Liberty star Tina Charles drives against Los

 Liberty star Tina Charles drives against Los Angeles forward Candace Parker  at the Westchester County Center. Credit: George A. Faella

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- The Los Angeles Sparks showed up at Westchester County Center Wednesday night in hot pursuit of the second seed and a pass right to the WNBA semis. The Liberty showed up just wanting to experience that feeling of winning for the first time since July 15.

Tina Charles scored 27, but the Sparks claimed an 82-81 victory, handing the Liberty their eighth straight loss and dropping them to 7-22 with five games left.

“If we played this hard all year for every single game, I think we’d be in a different position at the moment,” coach Katie Smith said.

They’re in a position of evaluating which players are worth handing a return ticket for next season. Smith sees Kia Nurse being one of the pieces moving forward.

Nurse arrived from UConn as the 10th overall pick in the 2018 draft. The 6-foot guard/forward from Hamilton, Ontario, is the Liberty’s second-leading scorer at 8.7 points.

But she has flashed considerable offensive potential at times, including games of 34, 25 and 20. She made her second pro start and scored eight against L.A.

“I think she’s been solid,” Smith said. “Her energy and effort that she plays with every night is a positive. … She plays hard. Her three-ball, obviously she can shoot it. She’s got to work on that mid-range game, getting to the hole, finishing, being a facilitator.”

She has also been a great free-throw shooter and a willing defender.

“Obviously, there’s been a lot of good,” Nurse said. “I think in terms of the adjustments, it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. I’m fortunate to have come from UConn and come from a [Canadian] national team and an Olympics. That probably really helped me along this transition.”

The Sparks (18-11), who were paced by Chelsea Gray’s 19 points, led 78-75 when Amanda Zahui B. made a bad pass for a Liberty turnover with 16.1 seconds remaining.

Gray connected on two free throws. Sugar Rodgers countered with a three. But Nneka Ogwumike nailed two more from the line for an 82-78 advantage with 7.8 seconds left. Rodgers hit another three to set the final margin.

“We’re all playing for spots on teams, whether it’s here or it’s somewhere else,” said guard/forward Rebecca Allen, who shot 5-for-7 and scored 13. “But it’s also just a pride factor. We want to finish the season strong.”

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