Sparks see progress but come up short against Aces – Daily News

LOS ANGELES — The Sparks experienced an ebb and flow in the second half to match the first half on Monday night as they went toe to toe with the WNBA’s first-place team, nearly upsetting the squad that had beaten them by a combined 45 points in their first two meetings.

But Coach Fred Williams’ team had to settle for a moral victory instead of an actual one after the Las Vegas Aces beat the Sparks, 79-73, before 4,200 fans at Arena.

The Aces outscored the Sparks 20-14 in the fourth quarter, when there were three lead changes and two ties before Las Vegas pulled away with a 5-0 run in the final 2:30.

“We didn’t get spanked in the first quarter. That’s something I’m very happy with,” said Liz Cambage, formerly a member of the Aces, noting that in the teams’ first two meetings, Las Vegas outscored L.A. by a combined 64-37 in the opening quarter of play.

This time, the Sparks (7-11) bolted in front 12-4 and never trailed in the first quarter, after which they led 26-21 after hitting 12 of their first 21 shots – assisting on 10 of those buckets.

The home team was cooking in the first quarter, but the heat went out in the second, when the Sparks got decent looks but shot 2 for 16 and were outscored 19-10. The Aces’ first lead was 35-34.

Still, the Sparks trailed only 40-36 at halftime.

The Sparks got back on track after the break with help from Lexie Brown’s three 3-pointers. They shot 8 for 15 in the third quarter and outscored their guests 23-19 to reset the game for the final 10 minutes, tied 59-59.

With 1:16 left in the game, Dearica Hamby’s first field goal of the night put Las Vegas ahead 76-73, and after Nneka Ogwuike missed a jumper, Kelsey Plum drew a foul and knocked down both free throws to give the Aces five points of breathing room with 36 seconds left.

After Brown missed a 3-point attempt, the Sparks fouled Jackie Young, but she missed both of her free throws to keep the door open for the hosts with 21 seconds remaining.

Katie Lou Samuelson and Brittney Sykes both missed 3-point attempts before the Aces’ Kiah Stokes corralled the rebound. Chiney Ogwumike fouled Stokes to stop the clock, and Stokes made one of two free throws to seal it.

“The Aces, the last couple times have played us have blown us out, and tonight we just wanted to show more grit defensively and more shooting on the offensive end,” said Williams, who was pleased that the Sparks took 12 more shots than Las Vegas and that they notched 23 assists.

“I’m very pleased with how collectively we are coming together as a unit. Once it clicks in for you, it’s on all cylinders – and we still have two or three sparkplugs to put in to make things happen on the floor for us, on the offensive end the defensive end.”

With the victory, Las Vegas improved to 14-4 and snapped its two-game losing streak – its first skid all season.

Nneka Ogwumike finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds hours after being named Western Conference Player of the Week after leading the Sparks to a 2-1 record with victories over Washington and Seattle by averaging 20 points, 4.67 rebounds, 2.67 assists and 2.33 steals while shooting 28 for 48 (58.3%) over three games.

It was Ogwumike’s 13th time earning the weekly honor, tying her with Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles for the 11th most in league history.

Ogwumike – who was voted an All-Star starter for the first time and who also passed Sheryl Swoopes for 24th on the WNBA All-Time scoring list on Saturday with her 4,875th point – notched another milestone Monday, when she passed Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon for 21st on the league’s all-time made shots list (1,915).

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