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A Stinging Rebuke for Sparks' Goal

June 02, 2002|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When they dueled for the WNBA championship last season, the Sparks had a clear edge over the Charlotte Sting in talent, size and desire.

This season the Sparks may still have an edge in the first two categories. But on Saturday the Sting had a greater desire to win, and pulled off a 94-87 overtime victory before 10,063 at Charlotte Coliseum.

The Sting, playing its season opener, scored the first five points of overtime and, as was the case most of the game, made the Sparks (3-1) do the chasing.

Los Angeles--whose coach, Michael Cooper, had set an unbeaten season as a goal for his team--got as close as 88-86 with 2:12 to play, but the Sting outscored the visitors, 6-1, down the stretch.

It was a somewhat painful win for Charlotte, which lost its best player, Andrea Stinson, in the first half because of a sprained left ankle. But not even the loss of Stinson or Spark center Lisa Leslie's 26 points and 12 rebounds could deter the Sting on Saturday.

The loss ended the Sparks' nine-game winning streak against the Sting, which included L.A.'s two-game sweep in the WNBA Finals last September. That was certainly on the mind of Charlotte Coach Anne Donovan, especially when the Sting raised its Eastern Conference championship banner before the game.

"We certainly didn't forget how the season ended in Los Angeles," Donovan said. "Raising our banner reminded us of that. And we also didn't want to start the season like we did last year [1-10]. We wanted to get off to a strong start."

The Sting--which had not played since an exhibition game on May 20--figures to stay strong if it keeps getting the kind of scoring distribution it had Saturday.

Five players were in double figures, led by Kelly Miller, who came off the bench to replace the injured Stinson and scored a career-high 23 points. Dawn Staley (10 for 12 at the free-throw line) scored 19 and reserve center Tammy Sutton Brown had 17.

The Sting hadn't beaten the Sparks since a 77-73 win in Los Angeles on June 24, 1998. Charlotte's last home victory against the Sparks was July 21, 1997.

Leslie, who fouled out for the second consecutive game, was supported by Latasha Byears, who had 15 and eight rebounds before also fouling out, and Mwadi Mabika, who had 13 points.

The loss also ended the Sparks' "quest" for an undefeated regular season, but Cooper didn't seem too upset.

"I'll say this first--32-0 is not going to happen. That's fine, it was a goal but that's over with," Cooper said. "Our ultimate goal is still the championship. This game shows us how much more work we have to do."

The Sting shot 51.7% from the field and 57.1% (12 for 21) from three-point range. It also outrebounded the Sparks, 34-31.

The Sparks--who trailed, 42-39, at halftime--kept after the Sting until they caught up at 59-59 with 11:51 to play.

Then the intensity level rose on both sides. There were seven ties and six lead changes in the final nine minutes of regulation. And the Sting's chance to win the game on the last play was thwarted when Nikki Teasley blocked Staley's shot with five seconds to go.

But the Sparks, finishing a weeklong road trip, didn't run out of gas or interest. Charlotte just didn't run out of desire.

"If we have to lose I'll take it," Leslie said. "I felt it would take a perfect game to beat us and Charlotte played one."

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In other WNBA games:

Rookie Tamika Catchings had 23 points and 13 rebounds as Indiana opened its season with a 79-62 victory over Detroit before 13,014 at Indianapolis.... Stacey Dales-Schuman, who led Oklahoma to the NCAA title game this year, scored 23 points as Washington beat visiting Orlando, 93-82, before 17,383.... Tina Thompson scored 26 points and sparked a comeback in Houston's 69-65 overtime win at Cleveland before 12,773.... Tracy Reid scored 16 points as Phoenix defeated Utah, 71-66, before 9,647 in Phoenix.... Katie Smith scored 17 of her 23 points in the second half as Minnesota rallied for a 63-61 victory at Sacramento before 17,317.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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