SEATTLE (AP) When the Los Angeles Sparks needed a lift to break open a close game in the second half, Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker took over.
Ogwumike scored 16 of her 22 in the second half and Parker had 13 of her 19 after the break to help the Sparks beat the Seattle Storm 77-69 on Saturday and give general manager Penny Toler her first win as a coach.
Ogwumike scored 11 in the final quarter as the Sparks (11-14) moved three games ahead of the Storm (9-18) for the fourth and final Western Conference playoff berth. Parker scored eight in the third quarter as the Sparks pulled away from a tie at 42.
”I was hoping to get it against New York at home but a win is a win and this is a big one for us,” said Toler, who will coach for the rest of the season, about her first victory. ”We needed it and they needed a win.”
Toler had lost her first two games after she took over July 20 following the dismissal of coach Carol Ross.
”I think it’s great,” Ogwumike said about Toler’s first win. ”Changes happen in seasons and in teams all the time. I think we’ve done a really great job of maintaining our composure so we can keep going out there and doing what we do best.”
Crystal Langhorne scored 21 and Camille Little added 16 to lead Seattle, which has lost five straight and six of seven. Just seven games remain for the Storm in the regular season as they aim for an 11th straight playoff berth.
”Losing really helped them and hurt us,” Storm guard Sue Bird said. ”I don’t know the exact numbers or how many games we’re behind but I know if we want to have a chance we need to take care of our own schedule and hope some teams (above us) lose as well.”
The Sparks are 4-0 against Seattle this year and have clinched any potential tiebreaker.
Little hit a short jumper to tie it at 42 midway through the third quarter before Parker took over. She scored eight, including a 3 just before the third-quarter buzzer, to put the Sparks up 54-44 to conclude a 12-2 run going into the final period.
”I told them this team was built on going inside-out and when we weren’t scoring we were settling for jump shots and not penetrating,” Toler said. ”I told them to move the ball around, reverse the ball and throw it inside. ”
When Seattle made a run early in the fourth quarter, Parker responded with back-to-back assists to Kristi Toliver and Ogwumike.
”That’s what people forget,” Toler said about Parker. ”They always look at Candace to score. Even when Candace wasn’t scoring, she was making the great play. She made a skip pass to Toliver, who was wide open and scored a three.”
Despite the win, Parker didn’t think the game went too smoothly.
”It was kind of an ugly game, but we’ll take it,” Parker said. ”I think we executed when we needed to and were able to go on a run in the third quarter.”