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Nneka Ogwumike leads Sparks but falls short against Sky



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Nneka Ogwumike may have been specializing in her personal pregame routine. As a substitute, the 11-year veteran was tutoring rookie Olivia Nelson-Ododa earlier than the Sparks sport in opposition to the Chicago Sky at Area on Thursday.

Candace Parker waited within the locker room. Ogwumike mentored the rookie on low submit strikes and sharpening her footwork.

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

The Sparks ahead was named an All-Star starter Wednesday for the primary time in her 11-year profession, incomes her seventh total All-Star honor. However Parker dominated the battle of seven-time All-Stars, recording a 10-point, 10-assist, 14-rebound triple double in three quarters of the 82-59 blowout in her first sport in L.A. since leaving as a free agent in 2021. She grew to become the primary participant in WNBA historical past with three triple-doubles and the primary with two in the identical season after reaching the milestone on Might 22.

Ogwumike had 15 factors, 4 rebounds and three assists because the Sparks (6-10) suffered their fourth loss in 5 video games.

About 10 months in the past, Ogwumike broke down in tears in entrance of reporters recalling the challenges of her 2021 season. Not solely did she endure the primary vital harm of her profession — lacking 14 video games with a sprained knee — however she was left off the Olympic roster for a 3rd consecutive cycle in a controversial snub.

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

Again at full power, Ogwumike is proving simply how worthwhile she nonetheless is for not solely the Sparks, however the WNBA. She starred in a WNBA Sports activities Illustrated swimsuit unfold this season and she or he led the Sparks with 18 factors and seven.7 rebounds coming into Thursday’s sport. Ogwumike has the belief of her teammates to ship clutch baskets on the courtroom and at all times has the solutions off it.

“The entire constructing could possibly be on fireplace, and she or he would be capable to maintain us calm and inform us what to do,” mentioned ahead Katie Lou Samuelson, whose older sister Bonnie performed with Ogwumike for one yr at Stanford.

Trailing by 17 early within the second quarter, the Sparks once more turned to Ogwumike. She scored six of the staff’s subsequent eight unanswered factors.

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike shoots during a game.

Sparks ahead Nneka Ogwumike shoots throughout a sport.

(Kamil Krzaczynski / Related Press)

However Ogwumike’s steadying presence was no match for Chicago (12-5).

Parker dazzled in her former residence enviornment with 12 rebounds and 9 assists within the first half. A left-handed layup with 5.2 seconds remaining within the third quarter gave Parker her ninth and tenth factors, making her simply the second participant in league historical past to succeed in a triple-double in three quarters.

The 36-year-old’s free- company departure was a big blow to the franchise that drafted her in 2008, signaling the Sparks’ continued fall from the league’s elite.

Whereas Parker introduced her hometown Sky its first WNBA championship, Ogwumike was left to hold the Sparks franchise alone.

She’s been a maternal determine for all WNBA gamers because the gamers affiliation president.

However the further tasks weighed on Ogwumike, so following the frustration of final yr, Ogwumike did one thing uncommon. She prioritized herself.

“I at all times inform myself this: ‘You possibly can’t pour from an empty cup,’” Ogwumike mentioned after Thursday’s shootaround. “It’ll go well with everybody higher if I assist myself first after which may help everybody else.”

When she discovered that she can be an All-Star once more, Ogwumike thanked her teammates. Ogwumike, at all times one to place others first, informed her teammates that achievements like these don’t occur alone.