Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike reaches milestone in loss to Sky – San Bernardino Sun

LOS ANGELES — It was an impressive, yet unsustainable start for the Sparks against the reigning WNBA champion Chicago Sky in an 80-68 loss on Thursday night at Arena.

The Sparks led 17-16 after one quarter before the Sky outscored them 52-31 over the next two periods, handing the Sparks (10-14) their third straight loss. The Sparks shot 39.4% from the field, while the Sky shot 48.5% overall and 42.1% from 3-point range.

The Sparks appeared energized by the return of Sparks All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike, who missed the last game, a 94-81 loss to the Washington Mystics, due to a non-COVID-related illness.

Ogwumike had 16 points and eight rebounds against the Sky and joined Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker as one of three players to ever score 5,000 points in a Sparks uniform.

However, the league-leading Sky (18-6) found their groove during a 19-7 run to begin the second quarter against the short-handed Sparks. Rookie Rebekah Gardner came off the bench to score 18 points and grab 10 rebounds to pace Chicago on a rare off night for two-time league MVP Parker. Gardner hit 8 of 11 shots and had four offensive boards and four assists while Parker was held scoreless with 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. She missed all 11 of her shots in 27 minutes.

The Sparks were without starting center Liz Cambage, who did not play, after being placed in the health and safety protocols on Thursday afternoon.

Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams knew the team would miss the 6-foot-9 center’s presence but he was looking forward to strong play from the Ogwumike sisters. In 30 minutes of playing time, Chiney Ogwumike recorded her fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

“Those two young ladies do a great job complementing each other with the high low pass,” Williams said in a pregame interview. “Defensively, they’re in tune with each other and they’re just great leaders.”

Katie Lou Samuelson and Brittney Sykes each scored 12 points for the Sparks.

The Sparks could not take advantage of Parker’s scoring struggles and still trailed 37-28 at halftime.

Sky coach James Wade said it was vital for him not to put any pressure on Parker in her second game back at the arena she called home for the first 13 years of her decorated career.

“When a player has been so great for so long, you let their motivation be their motivation, especially in a place where she practically built,” Wade said. “I just try to get out of her way, give her the game plan and coach her just like I coach everybody else but at a certain point it’s a big trust that’s there and you allow her to express herself when she gets on the floor.”

The Sky maintained the pressure after halftime and expanded their lead to 68-48 heading into the fourth quarter.

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