LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rookie Nneka Ogwumike scored a career-high 30 points and had 11 rebounds to help the Los Angeles Sparks beat the Chicago Sky 87-77 on Thursday night.
DeLisha Milton-Jones added 19 points for Los Angeles. Coming off a 1-4 trip, the Sparks improved to 13-1 at home and 21-10 overall. They moved two games ahead of San Antonio for second place in the Western Conference with four games remaining. The top two teams get home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Ogwumike scored 16 points in the second half and helped turn away a late Chicago rally.
“She was super,” Sparks coach Carol Ross said. “She kept battling in the paint. She created a lot of plays just by being aggressive. She was clearly the sparkiest of Sparks tonight.”
Swin Cash scored 19 of her 23 points in the second half for Chicago, and Epiphanny Prince had 19. The Sky (12-18) fell a game behind New York for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Sky center Sylvia Fowles, an Olympian and the WNBA’s second-leading rebounder, missed her third straight game because of a strained calf.
Ogwumike gave Los Angeles a 12-point lead when she put back a missed shot with 3:20 remaining, but Chicago put together a 10-2 run to trim the Sparks’ lead to 81-77 on Cash’s 3-pointer with 51.2 seconds to go.
The teams exchanged turnovers and Chicago committed two fouls. Kristi Toliver made a free throw, and Ogwumike took an inbound pass from Milton-Jones for an uncontested layup with 28.9 seconds left as Los Angeles held on for its seventh straight win at home.
The Sparks managed to win despite a rough night for leading scorer Toliver, who was 0 for 5 from the field and finished with six points.
“We just came off a 1-4 road trip,” Ogwumike said. “We knew this game was essential, and also learning from the win was really important, too.
“I think pushing the ball was working well for us, and playing outside of ourselves, because a lot of times we’re kind of stagnant and we don’t play past the first option. I think by moving the ball . that really added to our success tonight.”
Cash had a 14-point third quarter as Chicago closed to 61-57. Prince scored six in the third, including a long jumper and a pair of free throws.
Chicago was coming off a win against first-place Minnesota.
“We’re in the playoff race and this one hurts,” Cash said.
Ogwumike scored 14 and Milton-Jones added 11 to lead the Sparks a 44-35 halftime lead.
Chicago coach Pokey Chatman acknowledged that her team has to play a different way without Fowles inside to defend against players like Ogwumike.
“She’s a tremendous player,” Chatman said of Ogwumike. “She has those volleyball hops. She runs the floor. She gets 10 from the (free-throw) line. She gets six on the putbacks. She gets four because she gets up over somebody. She’s not a rookie anymore.”
The Sky shot 35 percent in the first half, including 0 for 8 from 3-point range, and Cash was held to one basket, a layup before the buzzer.
Ogwumike and Milton-Jones combined for 17 of the Sparks’ 27 first-quarter points. Ogwumike began her night with a three-point play and scored an uncontested layup for a 22-10 lead.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.