Parker Leads Sparks Closer To Playoff Loop Beating Washington
By Mel Greenberg
WASHINGTON – When Los Angeles Sparks superstar Candace Parker awoke Tuesday morning here in the nation’s capital little did she realize that besides the night’s important WNBA game against the Washington Mystics at the Verizon Center, she would have to deal with seismic news in women’s basketball and a seismic event that was seismic along the Eastern seaboard.
The seismic news was the revelation earlier in the day that her Tennessee coach, Hall of Fame legend Pat Summitt, had been diagnosed with early onset dementia – that type associated with Alzheimer’s.
Summitt, in making public the diagnosis that was done several months earlier at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said she was going to continue to coach the Lady Vols this season in pursuit of a ninth-NCAA title.
The seismic event was a rare earthquake on the East Coast, which was measured at 5.8 on the Richter Scale with the epicenter located halfway between here and Richmond, Va., and felt all along the seaboard with buildings shaking from Washington to New York.
Tremors are more likely to occur back home in Los Angeles.
On the court, there was the matter of repulsing a game-tying rally by the Eastern cellar-dwelling Washington Mystics before emerging with an 86-82 victory in overtime.
Parker, who returned from a knee injury a week ago on Aug. 16 that had her sidelined since late June, scored 19 points and hit the go-ahead basket with 38.9 seconds left in the overtime.
A few hours later in the Northwest on the Pacific Coast, the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm 15-12) helped the Sparks’ cause to make the playoffs, beating the San Antonio Silver Stars 63-55 to enable the Sparks to move within 1.5 games of the fourth and final playoff spot in the West.
“I had to come all the way back out here to experience my first earthquake,” smiled Parker, who has been with the Sparks since 2008 when she was the overall No. 1 draft pick. She is also from Naperville, Ill., near Chicago.
“I never felt one in California, so when I felt the building shake and the window shake … Yeah, it was a crazy day, today.”
Parker along with former Tennessee star Nicky Anosike of the Mystics got phone calls from Knoxville, Tenn., in advance of Summitt’s condition being made public.
“The coaches called me personally so I wouldn’t find out first on the news,” Parker said. “Obviously, we’re going to deal with it as a family. It’s obviously something she’s facing head on, she’s not hiding it. And that’s exactly how I know her.
“She faces adversity head on. She’s a true role model, when things don’t go right, how to do things. So, we’re still going to continue to support her. She’s going to be in my thoughts and prayers and I’m happy she’s still going to be able to do what she loves.”
After having escaped the Western cellar-dwelling Tulsa Shock (1-24) on Sunday, Los Angeles (12-15) had to deal with a Washington rally from a 12-point deficit before sending the Mystics (5-21) to yet another excruciating loss in the final minute.
Last month, with Parker still on the sidelines, Washington set a WNBA record for a second half rally, coming back from a 24-point deficit to win in overtime at the Sparks’ Staples Center.
But now the Sparks have won three of five since her return and with San Antonio on a downward course the last several weeks, Los Angeles has an excellent chance to slip past the Silver Stars (13-13) into the playoffs.
“We’re not playing pretty right now, but we’re finding a way to win,” Parker said. “The second half in Tulsa, we played well. But this has been a long road trip, we’ve been gone for days, so we’ll be happy to go home and sleep in our own beds.
“We were tired, today, but it worked out well, we went into overtime and got the win.”
Los Angeles interim coach Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, the former La Salle star in Philadelphia and father of NBA Lakers great Kobe
Bryant who is on his second tour of duty guiding the Sparks, echoed Parker’s thoughts on the outcome.
“It was an important game for us,” Bryant said. “It’s a big win. Washington really played hard. They’re really big under the basket, they got 19 offensive rebounds and that kind of kept them in the game.”
Tina Thompson added 15 points and 10 rebounds to the Los Angeles attack, while DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 13 points, and Noelle Quinn scored 11 off the bench.
Former Maryland star Kristi Toliver in her annual homecoming game scored seven.
Terrapins coach Brenda Frese, her assistants and others from the Terrapins attended the game to see former stars on both teams.
Former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne had 28 points and nine rebounds, while her former Terrapins teammate Marissa Coleman scored eight for Washington. former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon scored 14 points, and former Virginia star DeMya Walker of Mount Holly, N.J., in the Philadelphia suburbs scored 12.
When Atlanta, the defending Eastern Conference playoff champions, beat Chicago 83-80 on the road in the Midwest, an hour later, the Mystics were officially eliminated from playoff contention, joining Tulsa.
But the Tulsa and Washington records belied how they played against the Sparks.
“As I told the women before the game, it doesn’t matter if it’s ugly or pretty, the important thing is to get the “W” and that’s what we did,” Bryant said.
“(Washington and Tulsa) are the toughest teams to play because they have nothing to lose,” Bryant said. “Some players want to show the coach they deserve to be back next year. Some players make shots they didn’t make during the course of the season, so these are the most difficult teams to play and they play with extra energy.”
Bryant said when the earthquake hit, “I ran down nine flights of stairs because I experienced that Tokyo earthquake so I wasn’t going to be sitting around to find out what was going on.
“I knew what was going on. Of course, the first thing anyone thinks is some kind of terrorist because you’re not used to having earthquakes here. But I got out of there. I went outside and I was standing like this.”
Langhorne said she was still home when the ground began to rattle.
“My whole house was shaking, I was really scared there for a few minutes,” she said.
Walker said she slept through the episode.
Langhorne spoke of the frustration of yet another loss. On Saturday Chicago edged Washington here in overtime when Ajavon was charged with a foul on her former Rutgers teammate Epiphanny Prince, who hit two free throws with 00.7 seconds left for the win.
“This one was really tough, even with the comeback, we’re not even thinking about that, it was just losing another close one at the end,” Langhorne said. “It’s tough, that’s all I can say about it.”
Anosike tried to be a little more upbeat.
“It’s frustrating every night, but you can’t let it get the best of you because frustration is just going to lead to more frustration, so we just really have to focus on Chicago (on the road, Friday),” she said.
She spoke of hearing the news of Summitt.
“I was talking to Candace last night and she said, `Oh, the coaches keep calling me and I was like, `Oh, I have some missed calls from the coaches, too, at Tennessee.’
“But obviously we didn’t have a chance to call them back. But then, today, we got in touch with the coaches and they gave us the information this morning,” Anosike said. “It’s been a hard day, all day.
“I’m just glad Candace is in town and we can be here for each other.”
Mystics head coach Trudi Lacey and assistant Marianne Stanley have long relationships with Summitt dating back to Lacey’s days playing against Tennessee for North Carolina State while Stanley coached against Summitt at Old Dominion when the Lady Monarchs were a Top 10 team.
“I join my colleagues and friends and everyone in basketball in wishing Pat well,” Stanley said of Summitt, who once was a consultant for the Mystics, especially when former Vols All-American Chamique Holdsclaw played here.
“She’ll approach this challenge with every other challenge she’ll have in her life with strength and the kind of leadership we’ve come to expect from her,” Stanley continued.
“I’m pulling for her to have the support she needs to have around her that I know she has there at Tennessee and just continue to do what she’s always done –just love the game and be the terrific coach that she is.
“I was at home and checking something on the internet and then saw something on Pat, so I clicked on it and saw the news and said, `Oh my goodness.’ Just sorry to see that but I wish her all the best.”
Lacey also gave her thoughts.
“Sadden to her the news on Coach Summitt. But she’s as tough as they come. She’s a fighter. She’s surrounded by a great staff to support her and take care of her. People at Tennessee, the fans love her. So it is our hope that she’ll be able to coach for a long, long time and fight this.”