Sparks Weather Storm: Nneka Ogwumike Recovers To Nail Game-Winner
The No. 1 overall draft pick struggled mightily, missing six of her first seven attempts, before coming alive in the game’s final minute.
“It was really great,” said Ogwumike. “I think I was kind of rushing throughout the game but when it comes down to it, I try not to give up on every play. I try to go 100 percent.”
The Storm’s Katie Smith led her team with 19 points, including a three-pointer with 33.6 seconds remaining to tie the game at 63 apiece. Sparks point guard Kristi Toliver drove in for a lay-up before Seattle’s Camille Little reciprocated to even the contest at 65. As time winded down, Alana Beard handed off a pass to Ogwumike, who floated in the game-winning basket.
“I never let anything phase me,” said Ogwumike. “If I’m not doing well, if shots aren’t coming my way, I just keep playing and do whatever else I can do.”
Ogwumike’s strong debut earned her Rookie of the Month for games played in May. Despite leading all rookies in scoring (13.8 ppg), field goal percentage (.595), and blocks (1.4 bpg), Ogwumike struggles with consistency as she finds her footing in the professional arena. She scored only nine points in her first meeting with Seattle on May 18. Four nights later, the Storm defense stifled the rookie once again, holding her to 20 percent-shooting and a career-low of four points.
“I think it’s good for her confidence and for her teammates to know that it doesn’t always have to be on Toliver to hit the last shot or Parker to get 30,” Sparks Head Coach Carol Ross said. “Other people are going to contribute as best they can and tonight it’s Nneka’s heroics that will be remembered.”
Ogwumike wasn’t the only Sparks player to come up big in crunch time.
“That’s when I play my best, when things are on the line,” said Toliver. “We’re not going to try and continue to do this every single game, but that’s when playmakers, big-time players step up and we have a room full of them.”
After committing five turnovers in the third quarter, the Sparks went into the fourth quarter trailing the Storm, 49-43. Toliver powered through the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points to bring the team back.
Candace Parker contributed nine of her 16 total points in the opening quarter to give the Sparks a 16-15 edge after one quarter of play. She rounded out the game with 13 rebounds and three blocks. With the 16-point, 13-rebound effort, Parker achieved her fourth double-double of the first six games.
Although the Sparks shot a season-low 34.9 percent, the defense worked in overdrive to force 19 turnovers while committing only 14 as a team. Toliver, alone, racked up 14 turnovers Tuesday night against the Tulsa Shock.
“Coming off that game I was more conscious about protecting the ball,” said Toliver. “But I want the ball in my hands and I think it’s safe in my hands. I think I had a good comeback game.”
Sunday’s victory marks the Sparks’ third win over the Storm, who have been playing without the services of seven-time All-Star Lauren Jackson. Although these teams will meet twice more, the win ensures LA the regular-season tiebreaker over Seattle and extends its record to 5-1 after a lackluster 2011 season.
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