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Sparks Put Troubles to Rest, Rout Monarchs

July 06, 2002|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the Sparks and the Sacramento Monarchs were putting on their spirited duel in the Western Conference finals last year, it looked like the beginning of a great WNBA rivalry.

But Friday's 87-65 rout by the Sparks before 12,219 at Staples Center was another reminder of how far Sacramento has fallen this season.

The Monarchs had a hard enough time dealing with the Sparks at full strength. But the injury-riddled Monarchs (2-13)--trying to soldier through without stars Yolanda Griffith, Edna Campbell and Ticha Penicheiro--were no match for an aroused Spark squad still upset at having its 28-game home winning streak ended by Houston on Sunday.

"A very good win for us," Spark Coach Michael Cooper said. "I didn't expect a letdown because they had four days to reflect on what they did wrong against Houston. We got back to the basics on offense, and our defense was very active."

Revived by the four-day break, the Sparks (13-2) never gave Sacramento a chance, streaking to a 51-30 halftime lead. They went up by as many as 31 points in the second half even though Cooper played everyone in gold and purple.

"It was fun tonight," said Sophia Witherspoon, one of five Sparks in double figures with 11 points. "With the four days off we were able to get some rest for our bodies. Everyone looked fresh out there; that was the difference."

No Spark looked more refreshed than Lisa Leslie, who had a team-high 16 points and nine rebounds. Since the Sparks' trip to Sacramento and Seattle 2 1/2 weeks ago, Leslie has been battling an ailment described as flulike, which has left her tired and weak at times. She also had a collision with forward La'Keishia Frett in the Sacramento game but said there were no aftereffects.

Leslie looked very weary after the Houston game, but her energy level was high Friday.

"I did need the rest," Leslie said. "I don't know exactly what I have, and the doctors don't seem to know, so I don't know what to tell you guys. I'm just dealing with it.

"I felt a little rusty out there. But I also felt better today."

Even though the Sparks have been winning, the team has been in a subtle shooting slump. In the six games before Friday, the Sparks had shot 45.1%, making 164 of 364 shots. But throw out the two Phoenix games in which the Sparks made 65 of 126 shots and the percentage drops to 41.6% (99 of 238).

But on Friday, they came out firing and firing accurately. The Sparks made 10 of their first 15 shots and jumped to a 24-13 lead at the 12:19 mark of the first half. More telling was the fact the Sparks also got the game pace to a frantic level, which is not where Sacramento wanted it to be.

"The first time we played them we kept it [a half-court game]," Monarch Coach Maura McHugh said. "This time we didn't. They did exactly what they wanted to do. We were just struggling."

The Monarchs, who got 18 points from Kedra Holland-Corn and 16 from Ruthie Bolton, did their best to match the Sparks shot for shot in the early going. But an 11-0 burst by Los Angeles, culminated by a five-foot bank shot by DeLisha Milton with 3:19 to play, raised the lead to 45-25 and put the Sparks in complete control.

The Sparks wound up shooting 51%, while holding Sacramento to 37.7% (23 of 61).

*

In other WNBA games:

Seattle 73, Cleveland 65--Sue Bird had her first double-double as a pro with 16 points and 12 assists to lead the Storm (8-8) over the Rockers (6-9) before 11,114 in Cleveland. Bird, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, made all four of her shots and had nine assists in the second half as Seattle overcame a 53-40 deficit.

Utah 87, Minnesota 56--Margo Dydek returned from a one-game suspension for throwing an elbow and scored 13 points as the host Starzz (10-5) posted the largest margin of victory in franchise history before 7,165. Shaunzinski Gortman scored a season-high 14 points for the Lynx (6-10).

Charlotte 72, Miami 68--Allison Feaster scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half and the Sting (8-7) recovered from blowing a 20-point halftime lead to win before 7,615 in Miami. Sandy Brondello scored a season-high 23 points for the Sol (5-10).

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