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High-scoring Sun use defense to rally in fourth quarter to beat Sparks

Los Angeles’ Nneka Ogwumike, left, scores over her younger sister Chiney Ogwumike in Thursday night’s WNBA game at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun prevailed, 102-94.

UNCASVILLE, Conn., May 24 – The Los Angeles Sparks came to the Mohegan Sun Arena without Candace Parker, the veteran All-Star forward out of Tennessee, who is out with a back injury.

But this was a Sparks team that has played in the last two WNBA championship finals, winning in 2016 and losing last year’s final in game 5 to the Minnesota Lynx.

Los Angeles looked like a veteran team after three quarters as they opened up a nine-point lead. But Connecticut rallied in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Sparks by 17 points to win their second straight game with a 102-94 victory before 5,570 fans and a national television audience on ESPN2.

Connecticut (2-0) used a 10-0 run to take the lead, forcing three Sparks turnovers and pulling down four rebounds in the run. The Sun didn’t allow Los Angeles to pull down a single offensive rebound in the fourth quarter.

“We had to buckle down on defense and throw a few different things at them,” Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas said. “We were able to get into the passing lanes and we definitely wore them down at the end.”

Thomas had nine of her 15 points in the fourth quarter while Jonquel Jones had 10 of her 17 points in the final quarter, including a pair of key three-point field goals.

Alyssa Thomas is all smiles after the Sun snapped a six-game losing streak against Los Angeles with a victory Thursday night.

Chiney Ogwumike had a team-high 18 points for Connecticut, who had six players in double figures. Courtney Williams added 14 points, Jasmine Thomas scored 13 while Shekinna Stricklen chipped in with 11 points.

It was the first win for the Sun over Los Angeles since June 26, 2015. The Sun had lost six straight to the Sparks. And the Sun became the first team in WNBA history to score over 100 points in their first two games of the season.

“I’m proud of our team tonight (with a) gutty fourth quarter,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “Down nine, a little stagnant at the end of the third quarter, a team we haven’t beaten in a few years, easily could’ve seen a team pack it in and say it wasn’t our night.”

“But our defense and intensity picked up, big stretch, and then the first couple minutes of the fourth quarter to give us the energy that we could do it,” he said. “I am proud of our players.”

Connecticut’s Chiney Ogwumike tries to block the shot from Los Angeles’ Essence Carlson in Thursday’s WNBA game in Uncasville.

Los Angeles (2-1) took control in the third quarter, led by former WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney’s older sister. Nneka had eight of her 19 points in the quarter and was 4-for-4 from the floor, twice scoring over her little sister in the low post. Sparks’ teammate Chelsea Gray had eight her team-high 21 points in the third quarter.

It was the first time that the two Ogwumike sisters had faced each other in the WNBA since 2016. Chiney missed the 2017 season with an Achilles injury.

Chiney Ogwumike scored on a cutting layup to the basket from Jasmine Thomas to cut the lead to seven before intercepting a bad pass from Los Angeles’ Alana Beard. Chiney missed the layup but Jones was there to grab the rebound and score to cut the lead to five, 74-69.

Connecticut’s Alex Bentley stole the ball from Gray and Jasmine Thomas drained a 25-foot three-pointer to cut the lead to two and ignite the crowd at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

After a Los Angeles timeout, it was Alyssa Thomas with the steal. Bentley missed an 18-foot jump shot but Alyssa was there to grab the rebound and scored in the lane to tie the game at 74-74. She was fouled on the play and sank the free throw to give Connecticut their first lead of the second half, 75-74 with 8:15 remaining.

Los Angeles responded to take a 86-82 lead with 4:49 remaining but the Sun responded with a 10-2 run over the next four minutes.

A Bentley three-pointer cut the lead to one. After an Alyssa Thomas rebound following a Sparks miss, Jones scored on a cutting layup to the basket off an assist from Bentley. After another Sparks miss and another Alyssa Thomas rebound, it was Jones with a 26-foot three-point shot with 3:31 left and a four-point Sun lead, 90-86.

Connecticut outrebounded Los Angeles, 11-3 in the fourth quarter and had four steals. While the Sun shot 72 percent (13-of-18) in the fourth quarter, the Sparks shot 40 percent (6 of 15).

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas over Los Angeles’ Essence Carlson in Thursday’s WNBA game in Uncasville.

“We just didn’t defend down the stretch,” Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said. “We were a step slow in everything we were doing. Our defense wasn’t as active as it was earlier in the game and they hit some timely shots.”

Miller said the Sparks were slowed by playing their third road game in five days. Los Angeles beat Minnesota on Sunday and topped Indiana on Tuesday night.

“You saw a team playing their third game in five days and what this compacted (WNBA) schedule can do to people,” he said. “(They were) short-handed, (playing their) third game in five days, and we looked like the fresher team in the fourth quarter and put up 37 points.”

The 37 points in the fourth quarter tied a team record for Connecticut set last June against Atlanta.

Gray led the Sparks with 21 points with Odyssey Sims adding 20 and Essence Carlson scoring 15 points.

The Sun return to action on Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena when they host Indiana (0-2) at 7 p.m.

Connecticut 102, Los Angeles 94
At Uncasville, Conn.
Los Angeles (94) Beard 3-0-6, Carson 5-3-15, N. Ogwumike 7-4-19, Sims 8-4-20, Gray 7-4-21, Pondexter 1-0-2, Williams 2-1-6, Samuelson 2-0-5. Totals 35-16-94
Connecticut (102) A. Thomas 6-3-15, Stricklen 4-2-11, C. Ogwumike 9-0-18, Williams 7-0-14, J. Thomas 3-4-13, Bentley 2-4-9, Jones 7-1-17, Banham 1-0-3, Tuck 1-0-2, Laney 0-0-0. Totals 40-14-102
Los Angeles (2-1)              20  27  27  20 – 94
Connecticut (2-0)             22  24  19  37  — 102
Three-point goals: Los Angeles 8-14 (Carson 2-4, Ogwumike 1-2, Gray 3-5, Williams 1-2, Samuelson 1-1); Connecticut 8-14 (Stricklen 1-3, J. Thomas 3-6, Bentley 1-2, Jones 2-2, Banham 1-1, Laney 0-1)

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 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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