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Sparks hold off Mercury to end 5-game losing streak – Press Enterprise

LOS ANGELES — Finally, the Sparks had some fun.

After five consecutive losses, they scored a 99-94 victory over the Phoenix Mercury, who, yes, made it interesting late, cutting L.A.’s 12-point fourth-quarter lead to 97-94 on a pair of Diana Taurasi free throws with one minute left on Wednesday night at Arena.

But the Mercury (2-5) waited just too long to solve the Sparks contributors who seemed to be coming at them from every direction – including defensively.

Katie Lou Samuelson – who scored a career-high 17 points and knocked down a career-best four 3-pointers on five attempts in her first start as a Spark – stayed in front of Skylar Diggins-Smith on a drive with 32 seconds left. She blocked the Phoenix guard’s layup and corralled the rebound to help the Sparks preserve the precarious three-point lead.

Phoenix’s Diamond DeShields fouled Jordin Canada hard with 16.8 seconds left, and Canada made one of two attempts. Then, when DeShields missed a shot, Samuelson tipped the rebound back to Nneka Ogwumike, who was fouled and connected on one of her two free throws to increase the Sparks’ lead to 99-94 with 10.1 ticks to go.

Earlier, Diggins-Smith (who had a game-high 28 points) evaded Brittney Sykes at the rim only to have Chennedy Carter swat her shot away. Diggins-Smith hit the deck and looked up, astonished, to see it had been a mean-mugging Carter who’d gotten the crowd of 4,000 on its collective feet by denying her so vigorously.

“To see Slim hustle that hard and chase it down, normally – nine times out of 10 – she blocks that,” Carter said. “So for me to keep running and turn it into something beautiful, it was amazing to see it happen. It’s good basketball.”

Concurred Liz Cambage: “Gorgeous.”

Carter – aka “Hollywood” – put on a show on the offensive end too, with 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 17 minutes.

Nneka Ogwumike led L.A. with 23 points and Cambage had 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists: “I’m working on a triple-double,” she said. The Sparks also got 10 points from Lexie Brown, who stayed hot, hitting four of her five shots and both of her 3-point tries to bump up her season averages to 56.8% from the field and 53.6% from behind the arc.

“I’m really proud of everyone just staying together,” Cambage said. “There was no negative anything seeping in, we just knew we’re a brand new group, we got girls still coming in fresh from Europe, we still got another player (Dallas Mavericks assistant Kristi Toliver) coaching in the NBA playoffs, and it’s just time and patience. …

“Look at us tonight, we stayed calm, we executed … and we really found our chemistry tonight. Lou was cooking on the outside, Nneka was going hard on the inside, and we was just taking what was there.”

Coach/GM Derek Fisher said it was always his intent to include former Mater Dei High star Samuelson – who made her Sparks debut last week just days after winning a championship in the Spanish League alongside her sister Karlie – in the starting lineup.

“The tough decision to trade Gabby (Williams to Seattle) was made easier by who Katie Lou is and what she does on the floor,” Fisher said. “The size, the length, the versatility, offensively and defensively. We just felt like it would give us an added dimension we just have not had as much on the wing, and so in due time the plan was to find a way to get her into the starting lineup, especially starting the games with Nneka and Liz on the floor together, we want as much floor spacing and opportunity for them to dominate the paint (as possible).”

On Wednesday, Samuelson was facing her sister’s brand-new team. Phoenix – short-staffed due to injuries and a COVID diagnosis – signed Karlie, a former Spark, on a hardship basis just hours before the game.

Said Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard: “She woke up this morning, had probably a cup of coffee and then all of a sudden she’s a member of the Phoenix Mercury.”

Nygaard, the former L.A. Windward High girls basketball coach, also was reunited with former Windward star Canada: “She’s kind of like my kid,” the Mercury’s first-year coach said pregame, getting emotional thinking of their time together. “It was great for her to win those championships in Seattle and get to play with Sue (Bird) and all those great players, but she needs a place where she can shine and grow and to get to come home. … I know it’s so special for her.”

Canada finished with seven points and a team-high six assists.


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