CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Linda Sharp, the Los Angeles Sparks' coach, was fuming, glaring at her players in the visitors' locker room.
The Charlotte Sting used the Sparks' best weapon, the fastbreak, to beat them, 78-66, in a WNBA game Saturday.
"That's our bread-and-butter game, the transition, and they beat us with it," Sharp said. "Until today, that's what we've done best, run the floor and run the low-post offense, and we didn't do either very well."
On June 25, the Sparks ran the Sting out of the Forum with a 74-54 rout.
And for most of Saturday afternoon's game, before an announced 8,975 at the Charlotte Coliseum, a similar result seemed to be in the making.
But in the late going, Charlotte's post players played like guards, time and again beating the Sparks' lead-footed transition defense for easy layups.
It was like watching a tall relay race. It was 6-foot-3 Vicky Bullett, 6-2 Andrea Congreaves and 6-3 Sharon Manning who took over the running game with 12 minutes left.
After an 8-0 run by the Sparks had given them a 56-48 lead with 13:11 to go, the Sting's big players began running, and the score was 62-62 after a Tora Suber 18-foot shot. Then Congreaves made a three-point shot from the corner for a 65-62 lead and the Sparks never led again.
Lisa Leslie led the Sparks with 16 points and seven rebounds. For the second consecutive game, 6-8 Zheng Haixia's production was near zero. She had one basket, the game's first, two free throws and two rebounds in 17 minutes. On Thursday, she had seven points in 23 minutes in a victory at Cleveland.
"We have to go inside to Lisa and Haixia; we can't get away from that," Sharp said, as her players began heading for the airport bus.
"I'm upset about it, because the lob pass to Haixia was there today and our guards weren't letting it go. Haixia touched the ball once, I think."
The Sparks, in completing a 1-2 trip, dropped to 3-4. Charlotte improved to 2-3.
Daedra Charles said the Sparks' backup post players need to play harder, and she was including herself.
"Lisa's playing a lot of minutes, and we need to get it done for her when she's out," she said.
"Sometimes you have to lose to learn how to get to the top, and we're going through that now."
Even down the stretch, when the Sting seemingly had everything going its way, Leslie nearly put the Sparks back in it. Her two free throws with 4:18 left made it 67-64. But a free throw by Congreaves and a basket by Andrea Stinson on a break made it 70-64 with 2:11 to go.
New York 66, Utah 53--Teresa Weatherspoon made six free throws in the final 2:56 as the Liberty remained the only unbeaten team in the WNBA.
Weatherspoon finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds and Sophia Witherspoon added 14 as the Liberty improved to 7-0 before 7,689 at Salt Lake City.