Nneka Ogwumike leads Sparks but falls short against Sky

Nneka Ogwumike could have focused on her own pre-game routine. Instead, 11-year veteran rookie Olivia Nelson-Ododa taught before the Sparks game against Chicago Sky at Crypto.com Arena on Thursday.

Candace Parker was waiting in the dressing room. Ogwumike mentored the rookie on low post moves and polished her footwork.

“That’s why she’s an All-Star,” said interim coach Fred Williams with a smile.

The Sparks forward was named an All-Star starter for the first time in her 11-year career on Wednesday, earning her seventh All-Star honors overall. But Parker dominated the seven-time All-Stars’ battle, recording a triple-double with 10 points, 10 assists and 14 rebounds in three quarters of the 82-59 blowout in 2021 in her first game in LA since leaving as a free agent. She became the first player in WNBA history to have three triple-doubles and the first to have two in the same season after hitting the milestone on May 22.

Ogwumike had 15 points, four rebounds and three assists as the Sparks (6-10) suffered their fourth loss in five games.

About 10 months ago, Ogwumike broke down in tears in front of reporters as they recalled the challenges of their 2021 season. Not only did she suffer the first significant injury of her career – missing 14 games with a sprained knee – but she was dropped from the Olympic squad for a third straight cycle in a controversial snub.

After the Olympic break, Ogwumike said she felt “unworthy or unworthy”.

Back in full force, Ogwumike proves how valuable she is not only to the Sparks but to the WNBA as well. She played in a WNBA Sports Illustrated swimsuit spread that season and led the Sparks with 18 points and 7.7 rebounds going into Thursday’s game. Ogwumike has the confidence of her teammates to deliver clutch baskets on court and always has the answers.

“The whole building could be on fire and she could calm us down and tell us what to do,” said forward Katie Lou Samuelson, whose older sister Bonnie played for Ogwumike at Stanford for a year.

Trailing 17 early in the second quarter, the Sparks once again turned their attention to Ogwumike. She scored six of the team’s next eight unanswered points.

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike shoots during a game.

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike shoots during a game.

(Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press)

But Ogwumike’s steady presence was no match for Chicago (12-5).

Parker shone in her former home arena with 12 rebounds and nine assists in the first half. A left-handed layup with 5.2 seconds remaining in the third quarter gave Parker her ninth and tenth points, making her the second player in league history to hit a triple-double in three quarters.

The 36-year-old’s departure from free agency was a major blow to the franchise that called her up in 2008 and signaled the Sparks’ continued relegation from the league’s elite.

While Parker gave her hometown Sky their first WNBA championship, Ogwumike was left to carry the Sparks franchise alone.

As President of the Players’ Association, she was a mother figure to all WNBA players.

But the extra responsibilities weighed on Ogwumike, so Ogwumike did something rare after last year’s disappointment. She prioritized herself.

“I always tell myself, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup,'” Ogwumike said after Thursday’s shooting. “It suits everyone better if I can help myself first and then help everyone else.”

Upon learning that she would be an All-Star again, Ogwumike thanked her teammates. Ogwumike, who always puts others first, told her teammates that achievements like this don’t come alone.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/sparks/story/2022-06-23/nneka-ogwumike-leads-sparks-but-falls-short-against-sky Nneka Ogwumike leads Sparks but falls short against Sky

Emma Bowman

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