Can L.A. turn win into consistency?
Nneka (24 points) gets best of Chiney (18 points) in sisters' first WNBA meeting
It turns out Sunday's Ogwumike family reunion was less about the matchup between two super talented sisters and more about two teams that seem to be going different directions.
We say "seem" because Los Angeles' 90-64 victory at Connecticut -- dominant as it looked -- doesn't necessarily mean the Sparks are on the right track. They've just been too inconsistent so far this WNBA season for anyone to trust one result to be an indicator of what's to come.
But if what the Sparks did Sunday -- led by Nneka Ogwumike's big-time performance -- is indicative of the L.A. team we'll be seeing regularly, then this is great news for the purple and gold fans.
Big sister Nneka had a game-high 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and an 8-of-8 day from the foul line. Nneka wasn't alone in her perfection from the stripe; the Sparks went 23 of 23. Contrast that with the Sun, who went to the line just 11 times and made nine.
Younger sister Chiney Ogwumike led Connecticut with 18 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and she didn't get to the free throw line. What we saw Sunday is that both Ogwumikes are among the league's top players, but Connecticut's youth and injuries might be too difficult for the team to overcome in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Coming into the game, Chiney said one of the biggest keys to her success was always remembering to stay aggressive. That sounds a lot simpler than it actually is, especially considering she has no veteran post player anywhere near her caliber to help her on the Sun squad.
Sunday, Chiney started alongside another rookie, Alyssa Thomas; two second-year pros, Kelsey Bone and Alex Bentley; and the "grandma" of the team, Katie Douglas, who at 35 is old enough that she could have baby-sat her fellow starters when they were kids.
The Sun miss injured guard Allison Hightower on offense and defense. They just couldn't defend the Sparks inside. Along with Nneka Ogwumike's big day, Los Angeles got 19 points from center Jantel Lavender and 12 off the bench from forward Sandrine Gruda. Candace Parker had 15 points but took just six shots from the field. Like Nneka, Parker was 8-of-8 from the line.
Los Angeles' top guards weren't shot-happy, which was to the Sparks' benefit. Alana Beard, Kristi Toliver and Lindsey Harding took 13 shots combined. Toliver and Harding each had six assists.
In general, a scorer such as Parker getting just six shots would be worrisome. But her ability to get to the line Sunday -- and the fact that L.A.'s guards weren't playing the chuck-it-up style that gets the Sparks in trouble -- alleviated that concern.
Sparks fans know better than to get too "up" after this victory, as they've been on the rollercoaster of what's now a 9-11 season. But if Los Angeles can win at Indiana on Tuesday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET), it would give the Sparks their first three-game winning streak this season -- and maybe signal a permanent up-turn the rest of the way.
"Our team, at first glance, is intimidating," Nneka Ogwumike said. "We have so much talent. But it was a rough start. We're ready to turn it around. I think we're starting to click. I know it's weird to say that this many games in, but we're trying to be resilient and maintain our determination."
That will be easier for the Sparks than for the Sun. Connecticut's six-game winning streak in June seems distant now. The Sun's only victory in the past eight games came on Renee Montgomery's late basket July 5 at Tulsa. Montgomery had a poor game Sunday and went 1-of-10 from the field for three points. At this point, the Sun don't have much production from their bench, and the starters -- as mentioned -- are mostly quite young.
The rest of July is pretty brutal for the Sun, with trips to Seattle, Phoenix, Washington and Atlanta. Their only home game the rest of this month is against defending champion Minnesota.
That said, Chiney Ogwumike is a definite bright spot for Connecticut. She is fulfilling her No. 1 pick expectations, she has adjusted well to the pro game, and she has the personality to become the face of the franchise. She's certainly the front-runner thus far for rookie of the year, an honor Nneka won in 2012.
Oh, and the rematch between the Ogwumikes will be Aug. 3 in Los Angeles. At that point, the Sparks and Sun might be even further apart than they looked Sunday. But the Ogwumikes are likely to put on just as good a show individually as the WNBA's "first family."