Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike returned to the hardwood against the Phoenix Mercury (Photo by: Emarie Marie | T.G.Sportstv1)

By Amanda Scurlock

The Los Angeles Sparks stretch their winning streak to four after routing a shorthanded Phoenix Mercury. Five Phoenix players were sidelined by injury.

The Sparks franchise honored the late iconic Tennessee Lady Vols basketball head coach Pat Summitt, who won 1,098 wins during her tenure.

“When I played at Stanford, we’d play Tennessee every year,” Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike said. “She would encourage me even when we were playing against them. I found that very odd because I was playing against such a force of nature in a coach and a team.”

Sparks forward  Candace Parker lauded her former coach as the hardest worker she ever met in her life. She wanted Sparks fans to understand who Summitt was.

“I remember she was on me for not working hard and so I was like ‘I’m gonna beat her to the gym.’ … Practice was at six and I got there at four-thirty and she was in her office,” Parker said about Summitt. “That’s what I want people to know and remember and understand that she was able to inspire people even though she’s gone.”

Ogwumike scored 24 points and Parker secured a double-double with 11 rebounds and 12 points. Mercury center Brittney Griner scored 27 points and forward Brianna Turner grabbed 14 rebounds.

The Sparks started the game with a 9-2 run. After five regulated minutes, Nneka scored 10 points. Phoenix shoot well at the free throw line, landing all eight charity shots they were given.

The Sparks initiated aggression to a team known for their physicality, frustrating the team so much so that Mercury icon Diana Taurasi and head coach Sandy Brondello earned a technical foul each. Sparks head coach Derek Fisher mentioned how guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt defending Mercury guard Leilani Mitchell disrupted their offense.

“I just was working on my full-court defense tonight,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “Alana (Beard) told me that was the next step in being great on defense.”

Fisher matched up guard Chelsea Gray with Phoenix forward DeWanna Bonner, who was ultimately held to four points.

“Bonner’s like a guard with forward height and we felt like having a guard on her would also allow us to be really active,” Fisher said. “[Gray] fought her hard and kept her from getting into position.”

The Mercury struggled with scoring after the half, they would not score until four minutes into the third quarter. Sparks guard Sydney Wiese knocked down two three-point shots in that time. Phoenix continued to rely on free-throws, going eight-of-nine in the third.

Turnovers also plagued the Mercury, who gave away 20 points from 13 turnovers after three quarters. The Sparks only gave up eight points from 12 turnovers in that time.

Griner and Mitchell was the core of the Mercury’s offensive surge during the final minutes of the game. They reduced a 19-point deficit to eight points. Parker and Gray would not allow Phoenix a lead as the clock ran down.

“[the Sparks are] a great defensive team, just trying to battle it out,” Bonner said. “We’ve got to go home and learn from it. It was physical, and we’ve got to find a way to beat that.”

This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Sentinel.

Sparks Defeat Mercury on Pat Summitt Night

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