Sparks 82, Storm 71
Kristi Toliver scored 22 points and Alana Beard added 18 to help the Los Angeles Sparks beat the short-handed Seattle Storm 82-71 Saturday night for their sixth consecutive win.
The Sparks started slowly in their first game since the monthlong Olympic break but picked up the pace in the second half.
''I think it was natural that we would have at least a little bit of rust in the first half,'' Toliver said. ''We hadn't played in a long time. I think we responded well and hopefully we can take a little bit of this momentum against Indiana on Tuesday.''
Rookie Nneka Ogwumike had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Los Angeles (16-6), which swept the season series 5-0. Candace Parker added 11 points and 12 rebounds as the Sparks outrebounded the Storm 36-24.
''We're the best rebounding team in the league offensively and we should rebound the ball well,'' Los Angeles coach Carol Ross said. ''We should do it every time we step on the floor, but we weren't doing it that well in the first half because rebounding requires effort.''
Ross noticed a difference in her team's play after halftime.
''I thought we played the second half with passion and effort,'' Ross said. ''Effort will beat talent any day and in the first half, it was beating our talent.''
Tanisha Wright had 21 points and rookie reserve Shekinna Stricklen added 16 to lead Seattle (10-11), which remained in fourth place in the Western Conference. The Storm were without point guard Sue Bird (stomach flu) and Ann Wauters (strained Achilles). Also, three-time MVP Lauren Jackson hasn't joined the team yet after playing for Australia at the London Olympics.
Beard scored eight points in the third quarter to help the Sparks break open the game after leading 40-38 at halftime.
Parker added seven points and Milton-Jones six to help the Sparks to a 27-17 third-quarter run after a Seattle led by as many as eight in the second quarter.
''In the second half we didn't come out with the aggression that we needed to come out with,'' Wright said. ''They jumped up on us, and from there it was a battle. We fought we just didn't have enough gas in the tank.''
Toliver scored 16 to help the Sparks to a two-point halftime lead. Toliver had 12, including three 3s, in the second quarter to help erase an eight-point deficit.
''Toliver has offensive gifts and she used them and hit some big shots when we needed them,'' Ross said.
Wright figured she should have done a better job defending Toliver.
''Ididn't do a good job on her tonight,'' Wright said. ''I let her get too comfortable. I didn't really do a good job of forcing her to do some things that she doesn't like to do. I just think overall I didn't do a good job of handling her.''
Bird, averaging 12.7 points and 5.7 assists per game, remained at home. She left in the second quarter of Thursday's 72-58 win against Phoenix with the stomach flu.
Jackson is expected to join the Storm for Tuesday's game against Minnesota.