PHOENIX (AP) — Kristi Toliver scored a career-high 29 points as the Los Angeles Sparks took a big lead early and cruised to a 93-84 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday night.
Alana Beard added 18 points and Jantel Lavender 11 points and nine rebounds for the Sparks (10-3), who led by 22 at halftime. Los Angeles has won eight of 10, including three straight after losing back-to-back games last weekend.
“Our zone defense helped there in the second quarter,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said. “It changed the momentum of the game and the players played it really well in the second quarter and gave us a cushion to weather the good comeback that Phoenix made.”
Rookie Sammy Prahalis scored a season-high 22 points and had five assists and four steals while DeWanna Bonner had 24 points for the Mercury (3-8). Phoenix, which pulled within seven points in the final 2 minutes, has lost four of its last five.
“I told (Prahalis) to push it every time down, look for her shot, create (for her teammates), and do what she can do,” Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. “And that’s what she did, she created the game. She’s getting better. This is only her 11th game. She’s making progress.”
Candace Parker, the league’s third-leading scorer at 19.8 points a game, did not play for the Sparks due to a sore knee.
Phoenix went on a 17-4 run in the fourth quarter to pull to 79-70 with 4:48 left. After the Mercury cut it to seven, Toliver hit two free throws with 36 seconds left to help secure the win.
“With Candace being out, then people need to step up a little bit and make up for her absence, and I think that as a team collectively we did that,” Toliver said. “We played really well, especially in the first half. We got a little lackadaisical in the second half and Phoenix stepped up. We knew that they were going to make a run and that’s what they did. … There are definitely things that we have to get better at.”
Beard had seven first-quarter points to help Los Angeles get a 20-18 lead after the first. The Sparks scored 18 straight points in the second quarter, taking advantage of poor Phoenix shooting. The Mercury missed 10 straight during one stretch.
After tying the score at 20, Phoenix was outscored 29-7 as Los Angeles took a 49-27 lead at the break. Toliver scored 10 points in the second period on 4-of-5 shooting.
“We had a lapse where we got cold,” Prahalis said of the Mercury’s second-quarter struggles. “That killed us. We dug ourselves into a hole. But when we played hard, and played the way we can, we were right there in the game. … We just want to win. We didn’t want to get embarrassed, so we just kept playing hard.”
Phoenix cut the lead to 70-53 late in the third period before April Sykes hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Sparks a 20-point advantage going into the final quarter.
Los Angeles has won all three meetings with Phoenix this season, winning by an average of 12 points.
Phoenix had just eight players in uniform for the second straight game as second-leading scorer Candice Dupree again sat out with a left knee contusion suffered in Sunday’s loss to last-place Tulsa. Backup center Nakia Sanford also was out with the same injury on Saturday and All-Star Diana Taurasi remains sidelined by a strained left hip flexor. Phoenix is 2-5 with Taurasi out of the lineup.