It was billed as the Battle of the Sisters—Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, both overall No. 1 picks in the WNBA draft after finishing illustrious All-American college careers at Stanford. But it didn't turn out quite that way.
Big sis Nneka Ogwumike led all scorers with 24 points, and the Los Angeles Sparks rode a huge third quarter to a convincing 90-64 victory over the Connecticut Sun before 6,817 fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday. Jantel Lavender added 19 for Los Angeles, while Candace Parker had 14 and former Sun player Sandrine Gruda 12 for the Sparks, who improved to 9-11 with the win.
Chiney Ogumike led Connecticut with 19 points, while Alyssfa Thomas and Alex Bentley added 10 points apiece for the Sun, who fell to 9-13.
“I think there were more emotions before tipoff when I realized, oh I’m actually going to play against Chiney, but it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” said Nneka after the game. “We’re both aggressive and competitive and I thought it was a good matchup.”
“Nneka’s gear is always pretty high,” said Sparks' head coach Carol Ross when asked about the sibling rivalry. “That motor is always running, so I don’t know if she played harder because she always plays hard. I’m sure this was one of those Venus versus Serena moments where it’s exciting—but not the most fun thing to play your sibling. But Chiney and Nneka both play the game the right way. They play hard, give their teammates all they’ve got, and I think you saw both of them really do that tonight.”
The game was fairly close for during the first half, with the Sparks leading 21-19 after the first turn, and by six, 44-38, at half time. Alyssa Thomas scored eight of her 10 points in the second quarter, helping the Sun to stay in the game. That and the fact that Chiney was 7-for-7 from the floor with 14 points and five boards at intermission.
But it didn't stay close for long. That the Los Angeles defense held the Sun to 35 percent shooting from the floor in the first half turned out to be ominous foreboding, as the Sparks pulled away in the the third quarter, shooting 76.9 percent from the floor and outscoring the Sun by 20 points in the period. of-13 from the floor for a percentage of 76.9, the highest for any Sun opponent in a quarter this season. Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender combined for 23 points in the frame. The Sparks went on a 17-2 run to open up a 17-point advantage with 3:35 remaining in the third quarter. The Sun played even with the Sparks in the fourth quarter—but that hardly enough given that they entered the period down 74-48.
“I think when we aren’t making shots and things aren’t going well, we let it affect us defensively and we get passive or less aggressive,” said Katie Douglas, the veteran leader on the young Sun team. “That translates into points for the opponents. I feel like it’s kind of like an epidemic. When one person misses, it was very contagious today. When we are missing shots, we have got to have that extra sense of recognition, where we can buckle down and get stops on defense. I felt like tonight and a couple of other games, we let our offense dictate our defense and it just snowballed.”
Not only did Los Angeles outshoot Connecticut 51.8 percent to 34.2 percent from the floor, but the Sparks also outdid their opponents 42.9 percent to 17.6 percent from three-point land. They also out-rebounded the Sun 35-27 and, as if kicking sand in their opponents' faces, were a perfect 23-for-23 from the charity stripe.
“They are a bad match-up for anybody in the league,” said Sun head coach Anne Donovan. “When they put [Jantel] Lavender into the starting lineup and moved [Candace] Parker permanently to the three, it’s a nightmare. L.A. and Phoenix are match-up nightmares for most everybody in this league. For our young players, it’s tough.”
An interesting sidebar is that the Ogwumike sisters' parents, Peter and Ify, natives of Nigeria , were both on hand to watch their prodigious progeny for the first time this season. Normally, one parent is on the West Coast following Nneka, while the other is back east watching Chiney. They will have one more chance to watch their girls together this season when the Sun travel to Los Angeles take on the Sparks on August 3 at the Staples Center.
The schedule doesn't get any easier from this point forward for the Sun, who head do Seattle to begin a three-game road trip against Sue Bird and the Storm on Tuesday. That game—and afternoon matinee special in Seattle—will tip-off at noon, Pacific Time (3 p.m. on the East Coast) and will be televised on CPTV Sports. After that, the Sun head to Phoenix to take on Diana Taurasi and the first-place Phoenix Mercury on Thursday at 10 p.m. (CPTV Sports), and then on to Washington to take on old friend Mike Thibault and the Washington Mystics, featuring Stephanie Dolson, Kalana Greene and Kara Lawson, next Wednesday, July 23, at 11:30 a.m. (NBA-TV).
After returning home to entertain Maya Moore and the defending champion Minnesota Lynx on Sunday, July 27 (WCTX), the Sun then hit the road once more for a three-game transcontinental road trip that starts in Atlanta before heading west to take on San Antonio and Los Angeles. Those three games will all be televised on NBA-TV.