The Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike brings the ball upcourt against the Lynx in Game 2 of the 2016 WNBA Finals. (Jim Mone / Associated Press)
The Los Angeles Sparks have been playing a lot better over the last few weeks and their defense has been a big reason why.
Nneka Ogwumike scored 17 of her 21 points in the first half to help the Sparks beat the Connecticut Sun 87-79 on Tuesday night.
“We’re getting better defensively,” Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said. “At the start of the season we were one of the bottom two teams. I’m not sure where we are now, but we’re better than that.”
Candace Parker added 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocks for the Sparks (10-3), who have won six straight.
“There are some things we got to tidy up, putting teams away,” Parker said. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel this year. To beat a good Connecticut team on the road is huge.”
Parker didn’t want to compare the success that the Sparks had last season, winning the title to what they’ve done this year. She’d rather focus on just getting better every game.
“It’s completely different years. Last year was historical. It’s hard to match that,” she said. “We’re just trying to stay in this game and figure out what works this year.”
Los Angeles led by six at the half thanks to Ogwumike, who made her first eight shots. The Sparks scored 16 of the first 20 points in the second half to open up a double-digit lead. Riquna Williams, who is filling in for injured guard Essence Carson, spearheaded that burst and finished the game with 13 points.
The Sun (6-7) were down by 19 and got to 68-61 early in the fourth, but could get no closer as Los Angeles scored the next eight points.
Jasmine Thomas led Connecticut with 19 points. Jonquel Jones added 13 points and 17 rebounds.
Ogwumike scored 13 points in the first quarter as Los Angeles jumped out to a 10-point lead. The Sun trimmed their deficit to six behind the strong play of Thomas and Courtney Williams, who combined for 16 points in the opening half.
“We talked as a staff about how important the first quarter was going to be,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “It was that way for confidence, but also for a little momentum, to feel good about playing them. We had a difficult first quarter. We can’t get that one back.”