Sparks are peaking at the right time

By Steve Finley and Michael Johnson

On June 23 the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA had a record of 4-6. After that game they have won 11 out of 13 games and at press time and they have improved their record to 15-8. They are in fourth place in the 12 team WNBA league, a game and a half out of first.

Why the sudden turn around? The answer is easy. Most of their players are healthy now and the team is starting to get more playing time together. Star forward Candace Parker; guard Alexis Jones and front court player Maria Vadeeva are back from the injured list. More good news is on the way when suspended guard Riquna Willaims and injured guard Alana Beard return. Both of those players have been consistent starters on the Sparks.

"We need to remain consistent," said All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike last week after their win over the Phoenix Mercury. "We need to bring defensive energy every day and understand that we are in control. What I'm trying to say is we stop ourselves. When we don't make things to complicated, and we remain consisted anything can happen for us."

The Sparks have enough talent to keep the situation under control. Their roster is loaded with players that can get the job done. Ogwumike, Parker and Chelsea Gray are three of the top players in the league but what makes this team special is the role players that do their jobs every night.

One of those role players is six year veteran guard, 5'11 Tierra Ruffin-Prat. Ruffin- Pratt, who also plays forward, played her college basketball at North Carolina. She is a defensive specialist who can also score and she has started 22 out of the 23 games. "We put a lot of emphasis on defense and being able to hold teams to low shooting percentages," said Ruffin- Pratt. "Everything starts on the defensive end first."

Ruffin-Prat is playing her first season with the Sparks. "It's my role to play defense. I try to make everything tough on the player I am guarding and that's what my teammates look for me to do. I am not searching for shots but if I am playing well on defense I am bringing something to the game. Playing for the Sparks has been a great experience for me."

Having a deep roster is a luxury few WNB teams have. Ogwumike is averaging 16.9 points per game and 9.5 rebounds. Gray has started all 23 games and is averaging 13.6 points per game, 3.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists. She is also averaging a team high 32.0 minutes per game. Parker is averaging 10.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

"It feels amazing when you know you don't have to do it all the time," said Ogwumike. "You also understand if you have to take it over you have to take it over. We do a very good job of encouraging each other."

The Sparks play three home games in a row next week on August 20 against Minnesota at 7:30 p.m., August 22 they face Indiana at 7:30 p.m. And on August 25 they play second place Connecticut at 2 p.m. All home games are played at the Staples Center.


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