New York begins West Coast swing on high note, Tina Charles leads Liberty to 66-64 win at Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Sparks began the Penny Toler era of head coaching with a 66-64 home loss to the New York Liberty at Staples Center Wednesday night.
New York (9-13) came into the game at the bottom of the East, just one game behind Chicago and two games out of fourth place. They are on a tough road stretch and leave Los Angeles at 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning for a matchup against Seattle the same evening. They face the league-leading Mercury in Phoenix on Saturday.
“This win was huge for us,” said Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer postgame. “You know we have three games on the road, all tough opponents and anytime you get the first one it takes a lot of pressure off the situation.”
The Sparks (10-13) were without their leading scorer and rebounder, Candace Parker. She missed the game due to a left knee strain. She is day-to-day according to Toler.
New York’s victory was hard fought as the two teams battled into the final seconds as Los Angeles struggled to make a shot in paint but failed to take the game into overtime with a basket.
“We had an opportunity to win the game,” said Toler, “we’ve just got to close out and win the game.”
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike was the first to score, helping the sparks begin the game on a 10-5 run. Liberty center Tina Charles and rookie guard Anna Cruz kept New York close. Midway through the quarter, the teams were tied at 12 and were evenly matched until Charles’ offense helped the Liberty end the quarter ahead of the Sparks 20-15.
Early in the second quarter the Liberty extended their lead to nine, 24-15 at 9:16 after a driving layup by Natasha Lacy. But Ogwumike’s offensive prowess helped the Sparks fight back. Before the quarter ended, the teams were tied four times. The Sparks led at the half, 37-34.
During the third quarter the Sparks came out blazing, took control and built a seven-point lead. It took the Liberty nearly five minutes to score before they began a comeback. Charles said that the Liberty remained positive even as they faced a deficit in third.
“We stayed confident and stayed with it,” she said. “We just never gave up.”
The fourth quarter was a back and forth contest with seven ties and three lead changes.
Despite the loss to New York, Toler expressed optimism about her team.
“I’m actually proud of them because they played hard, their energy was better. So if I have to take a positive away from this, the energy as far as tonight was really, really good. It wasn’t lackluster. It was actually a great basketball game.”
For Charles and Cappie Pondexter, the win was crucial for their road trip and playoff hopes.
“It was very crucial,” said Charles of the win. “We have to approach every game like it’s a playoff game. We didn’t score until the five minute mark in the third quarter and then we went down seven. We stayed confident and stayed with it. We just never gave up.”
She finished with a game-high 31 points and collected 15 rebounds.
For Pondexter, there were two reasons the win was important.
“One, we want to make the playoffs,” she said. “Two, we just need to win. Winning feels goods, it’s contagious. You know when you beat good teams, you feel confident and kind of get on a roll. Starting the second half after the All-Star break. You know we have to make a strong push. Today was the start of it.”
Pondexter had 16 points plus five rebounds and five assists.
Ogwumike led the Sparks with 23 points plus six rebounds. Jantel Lavender contributed 16 points plus eight rebounds. Kristi Toliver was also in double figures for Los Angeles with 13 points plus 5 rebounds and seven assists.
The Sparks host Phoenix Thursday night.