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Stiff defense from Sparks beats Sun

Los Angeles gets tough in final minutes, beat Connecticut 

Connecticut’s Rita Montgomery drives to the basket against Los Angeles.

UNCASVILLE, Conn., June 13 – The Los Angeles Sparks haven’t forgotten their game with the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx in May. The Sparks played well for 33 minutes but let the lead slip away in an eight-point loss to the Lynx.

They were determined not to repeat that mistake Wednesday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena against the Connecticut Sun. In the final 6:51 of the contest, the Sparks gave up just one field goal to Connecticut, pulling away for a 87-81 victory and handing the Sun just their second loss of the season.

Los Angeles’ Candace Parker was simply spectacular. She had a game-high 33 points on 12-of-22 shooting, ripped down 16 rebounds and had five blocked shots, including a monster block on a Sun breakaway with 50 seconds left in the game.

Connecticut led by one, 81-80 when Allison Hightower stole the ball, igniting a Sun fast break. Hightower raced down the court and found Tina Charles driving to the basket. But Parker came from behind to block Charles’  shot to begin a fast break for the Sparks. “The play of the game,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said.

Los Angeles (7-1) took a 82-81 lead on a pair of foul shots from Nneka Ogwumike. Connecticut tried to respond but  Renee Montgomery had her shot deflected out of bounds by the Spark’s Delisha Milton-Jones. Retaining possession, Montgomery got off another shot and it rolled out. Charles got the rebound and bounced it off the rim.

Los Angeles controlled the rebound and a few seconds later, Ogwumike completed a three-point play with 20 seconds left for an 85-81 lead that iced the win for Los Angeles.

“The object of the game is to put the ball through the hole,” a disappointed Thibault said. “We shot 18 percent in the fourth quarter (4 of 22). And you won’t beat many teams doing that. Give Parker and the Sparks credit. They were terrific.”

Charles led the Sun with 19 points and a team-high 13 rebounds. Kara Lawson added 16 points and Montgomery had 12 points off the bench. Connecticut (6-2) had five players in double figures but in crunch time, they couldn’t score. The Sun (6-2) missed 16 of their final 17 shots.

“In the second half, we seemed to be rushing things. We couldn’t catch the ball. We fumbled it away. They did a good job with the zone,” Thibault said. “We had the lead but we couldn’t sustain it.”

Candace Parker (3) tries to get past Connecticut’s Tina Charles (31).

“Our defense really allowed us to get into the open floor and run which is something we’re good at,” Parker said. “We definitely affected them (with our defense). They didn’t quite know what to expect (from us).

Lawson and Montgomery had nine points each in the second quarter as the Sun opened up a 45-40 lead at halftime. They led by eight in the third quarter, 52-44, before the Sparks used a 10-0 run to climb back into the contest. Parker had grabbed an offensive rebound and dropped it back through the hoop, she drained a three-pointer from 24-feet away and fed Marissa Coleman inside for a basket that capped off the run.

Connecticut led 75-72 with 6:51 left in the game when Tan White drained a three-point shot but they struggled from that point. With 5:04 left, Ogwumike ripped down an offensive rebound and scored to cut the lead to two. She was fouled and tied the game at 75. About 30 seconds later, Parker drained a three-point shot off a nice feed from Alana Beard for a 78-75 lead.

With 3:08 left, Parker pulled down a rebound and put up an awkward shot between two Sun defenders for an 80-75 edge.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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