Sparks lose to A’ja Wilson, Aces – San Gabriel Valley Tribune
LOS ANGELES — Turns out Becky Hammon is a pretty good head coach.
“I’m having a blast,” said Hammon, the former WNBA star and longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant who was now the freshman head coach of the Las Vegas ‘Aces before his team won a 89-72 victory over the Sparks at Crytpo.com Arena, where his team improved to 11-2.
Fred Williams closed his first postgame press conference as interim head coach of the Sparks by paying tribute to Hammon, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday as part of a class that also included former Sparks star DeLisha Milton-Jones.
“Congratulations to Becky Hammon, that’s huge, that’s great,” said Williams, a well-traveled WNBA coach who took the helm on Wednesday. “I want to give him my hat – and the Aces. They did a good job shooting from the outside today and did what they had to do.
“My goal really, honestly? I didn’t want to lose at 28.
After beating LA 104-76 in the teams’ first meeting on May 23, the Aces led to 26 on Saturday before the Sparks broke away from the Aces’ reserves in the fourth quarter to avoid another outburst of such magnitude. .
Still, the Aces’ early season steamroller continued in front of a record 8,200 fans Saturday at Crypto.com Arena. That included 70 people there to support Aces assistant coach Natalie Nakase, the former UCLA star and longtime Clippers assistant coach. All but six of those people were paying customers, including Clippers winger Terance Mann, who had seats next to the aces bench.
They saw Nakase’s side thwart the Sparks in just about every aspect during Fred Williams’ debut as interim head coach following Derek Fisher’s departure earlier in the week.
Led by A’ja Wilson’s season-high 35 points to go with a game-high 10 rebounds, Hammon’s team shot well – they shot 48.5% (33 for 68 ) – while limiting LA to 36.6% shooting.
Nneka Ogwumike led the Sparks with 16 points, but the famously efficient forward shot just 5 of 13. Former Mater Dei High School star Katie Lou Samuelson added 13 points and the graduate of LA Windward Jordin Canada High School had 10 and eight assists in the loss.
Chiney Ogwumike – who has spent part of the last week working as an ESPN NBA analyst covering the NBA Finals in Boston – said the new Sparks are trying to be patient as they work on the merger, but c ‘is difficult.
“I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” she said. “If you look at everyone in this dressing room, we’ve all had success on an individual and collective level and I think what you’re doing is putting a lot of pressure on ourselves, individually and collectively.
“That’s something Nneka said in our post game, we have to give each other grace. Because we want it so badly, we know we can do it, we just have to let it go.
Williams said he could smell it.
“They were trying a little too hard,” he said, noting he was pleased the Sparks had just 13 turnovers while forcing 19 – and took three more shots than Vegas. “They just need to have more training, reduce the time of the things we do on the pitch differently.”
The Sparks will have one week to do so, with no more games until their next game on June 19 in Dallas.
Facing Las Vegas the first time around was a daunting task for Williams, who, along with her assistant coaches, took her in street clothes on the sidelines, a departure from the tracksuits that most NBA and Las Vegas coaches WNBA have worn lately.
And the Sparks (5-8) punched in and delivered a sleek opening frame, even playing a formidable foe.
But Las Vegas finished with an 8-0 flurry to take a 25-18 second-quarter lead — an advantage the Aces wouldn’t give up.
Amanda Zahui B. was in the stands, relegated as a spectator because the Sparks put her on the list of suspensions for the season because commitments to play abroad would delay her arrival. Kristi Toliver on the bench in street clothes for Game 2 after arriving late for her other job as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, who reached the NBA Western Conference Finals.
The Sparks who were available had no real answers for Wilson and company, who also got 20 points from Dearica Hamby, 17 points and eight assists from Kelsey Plum and 10 points and seven assists from former Spark Chelsea Gray.