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Leslie's Layup Beats Lynx

Her basket with less than one second remaining gives Sparks a 76-75 victory. Byears, a key reserve, is abruptly waived earlier in day.

June 11, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

Lisa Leslie's layup with less than one second remaining after rebounding her own missed shot gave the Sparks a 76-75 victory over the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday night before 7,844 fans at Staples Center.

But that was almost incidental to the news that the Sparks (7-0) had waived forward Latasha Byears and replaced her with guard Sophia Witherspoon.

Byears, 29, who came to the Sparks in 2001 in a trade after four seasons with Sacramento, had not been with the team since its road game Saturday against the Monarchs. That night, team officials said Byears had gone back to Los Angeles to handle "a personal matter."

No one from the Sparks would say what led to Byears' abrupt dismissal. The 5-11, 206-pound forward, who was averaging 5.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in five games this season, was usually the first substitute off the bench and is considered one of the league's best offensive rebounders.

"The personal matter had a little to do with the decision," Coach Michael Cooper said. "But the big decision was we needed somebody to help Mwadi [Mabika] at [small forward]. With Jennifer Gillom, Chandra Johnson and Rhonda Mapp coming back, that gave us enough big people, because there is not a lot of playing time there.

"Latasha did great things for us here, and we're not knocking her for that. We just felt ... with championship teams you have to make little changes here and there. That was the one change we decided to go with."

Other Sparks -- who were informed of the move after the morning shootaround -- said the Byears' dismissal caught them by surprise. Nikki Teasley wore Byears' name and uniform number on her shoes during the game.

"We're still kind of in shock," said Leslie, who led the Sparks with 19 points and eight rebounds. "I think we're addressing that we're not a one-person team. Obviously we will miss Tasha a lot, because she means a lot to us; she's a good friend and a person we love. And she helped this team win.

"Thank God Sophie was already a part of our team. We wanted her back in the beginning, but the team didn't have enough [salary cap] space. I don't think it will be too much of a problem as far as a transition. She's not really a new player."

Witherspoon played with the Sparks last year. A six-year veteran, Witherspoon had been unable to secure a roster spot with the Sparks or other WNBA teams primarily because of the league's new salary cap.

Witherspoon will join the Sparks for Thursday's game against Indiana.

In Tuesday's game, a free throw by Leslie gave the Sparks a one-point lead with 28.9 seconds remaining before Katie Smith made two free throws to put the Lynx (3-3) ahead, 75-74.

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