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    Nneka Ogwumike helps Storm pull away from Sparks
    • June 12, 2024

    SEATTLE — For more than a decade, the Sparks reveled in Nneka Ogwumike torching an opponent.

    Not this time.

    Ogwumike scored a season-high 26 points against her former team, Jewell Loyd added 21 points and the Seattle Storm pulled away to beat the Sparks, 95-79, on Tuesday night.

    The Storm led 74-69 with 4:08 left then scored on four straight possessions down the stretch to seal it. Skylar Diggins-Smith drove into the lane and passed it out to Ogwumike for a corner 3-pointer to make it 79-70. Diggins-Smith added a 3-pointer on Seattle’s next possession for a 12-point lead, then Ogwumike capped the 8-0 run. The Storm outscored the Sparks 29-18 in the fourth quarter.

    Ogwumike, who spent the first 12 years of her WNBA career with the Sparks before leaving as a free agent in the winter, has helped Seattle (8-4) win seven of its past eight games, with the lone loss coming against Minnesota on Sunday.

    Diggins-Smith finished with 19 points, five rebounds and six assists for Seattle. Sami Whitcomb made three 3-pointers to finish with nine points. Ezi Magbegor grabbed 13 boards to help the Storm outrebound the Sparks 45-33.

    Li Yueru scored a career-high 18 points to go with seven rebounds for the Sparks (4-8), who were kicking off a seven-game road trip. Dearica Hamby had another double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds) to go with five assists, and Aari McDonald added 15 points off the bench.

    Hamby shot 7 for 16 from the field, but the Sparks shot just 39.1% overall (27 for 69) with rookies Rickea Jackson (1 for 8) and Cameron Brink (2 for 7) and veteran guard Lexie Brown (2 for 9) all struggling through a rough night.

    Ogwumike has long been synonymous with the Sparks, the team that selected her No. 1 overall in the 2012 WNBA Draft. The eight-time All-Star helped the Sparks win a WNBA title and was named the league MVP in 2016.

    “It’s great to have (her) on our side,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn, a former UCLA and Bishop Montgomery High standout, told the Seattle Times. “She presents a mismatch in that she’s very athletic. If you put a bigger forward on her, she can blow by them. She’s gotten better every single year. She worked on her handle and now her 3-ball is effective. Game planning and scouting her, it’s pick your poison with her.

    “She’s always been so consistent and now to have that consistency on our side, it helps a ton. It’s not just the basketball on-court stuff, it’s everything she stands for and who she is off the floor and as a human being and that impacts our team in a great way. Her leadership is second to none and contagious in a positive way. She looks great in green.”

    Ogwumike, who shot 11 for 15 from the field to go with eight rebounds and two blocks in 29½ minutes despite first-half foul trouble, downplayed her first outing against her old team.

    “It was impactful because of the last game,” she told the Seattle Times. “It just so happened to be L.A. … I show up, I play the game and I respect the game. … That’s just kind of how I am. I’m really good at staying focused. It happened to be a good one.

    “I want to play like that every night and my teammates give me that confidence. I just really want us to have that G-mentality.”

    Loyd, a five-time All-Star herself, said Ogwumike makes it easier on all of her teammates.

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    “Seriously, she always comes up with big plays and big stops and big blocks,” Loyd told the Seattle Times. “Whether it’s her presence, coming off ball screens and the (defensive) pressure. I know what she’s capable of doing and this is light work. Her shots are so efficient. She makes it look easy and effortless, but it’s all the preparation that goes into it. She puts a lot of work into her body and her game. To see her go out there on this floor is awesome.”

    Quinn believes the best is yet to come.

    “When she’s aggressive, she’s efficient,” Quinn told the Seattle Times. “I’m just thrilled about the fact that it’s early and she’s producing like this. We still have so much room to grow, but she’s been awesome with a capital A.”

    Ogwumike recorded her 364th straight game with at least one rebound, breaking a tie with former Sparks star Lisa Leslie for the second-longest streak in WNBA history behind former Sparks star Candace Parker with 410. Magbegor had her eighth straight game with at least three blocked shots.

    Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf sat courtside and chatted with Loyd after the game.


    The Sparks play at Minnesota on Friday at 4:30 p.m. PT.

    ​ Orange County Register