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Saturday, September 21, 2013
Updated: September 22, 2:53 PM ET
Parker paces Sparks past Mercury

By Michelle Smith
espnW.com

Candace Parker
After Phoenix's Diana Taurasi scored 30 in Game 1, Candace Parker answered with 31 points Saturday.

PHOENIX -- Candace Parker remembers back to her college days at Tennessee when after a particularly painful loss, one of her teammates said something that still stays in her mind all these years later. 

"Somebody said, 'We were hungry, but they were starving,'" Parker said. "That always kind of stuck with me. We came into this game tonight with that mentality. We were starving for a win, facing elimination.

"Why do we always have to wait for our backs to be against the wall to be starving?" Parker asked, rhetorically.

The Los Angeles Sparks jumped quickly on the Phoenix Mercury in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night at U.S. Airways Arena, doing enough things better than they did them on Thursday night, to finish with an 82-73 win and force a deciding Game 3 at Staples Center on Monday (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 10 p.m. ET).

The news was absolutely a surprise to us. … I have known [Sparks chairman] Paula [Madison] to be a passionate and committed owner, and I think it was a matter that she took on more than she could handle.

-- Laurel Richie

The difference between winning and losing is a sliver of a margin when you've played the same team a dozen or so times in the last couple of years.

As Sparks coach Carol Ross explained it, you do what you do, they do what they do, and whichever team does it a little bit better, wins.

"Everything was clear [after Thursday's loss], what we wanted to do, we just did it a little bit better," Ross said. "There wasn't any major scheme change."

The Sparks had a better offensive game, more ball movement, a more aggressive approach to getting to the rim. They outshot Phoenix 42.7 to 40.6 percent, outrebounded the Mercury by a 37-35 margin, and forced 17 turnovers, the biggest point of separation between the two teams.

Parker set the pace with an inspired 31-point effort, Nneka Ogwumike added a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and guard Alana Beard turned out a big supporting performance with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Phoenix, which got a game-high 20 points from Diana Taurasi, couldn't harness the energy of a big home crowd, playing from behind most of the game in failing to close out the series. The turnovers, which turned into 15 Los Angeles points, and a 1-for-14 effort from the 3-point line stood out most.

"They played a little more desperate than we did," Mercury coach Russ Pennell said. "I think we let [the Sparks] get away from us early."

Los Angeles led by as many as 15 points and withstood Phoenix's inevitable late-game rally, holding the Mercury off after they cut L.A.'s lead to just five points in the final minute.

"We played better longer," Ross said. "On Thursday, we weren't able to stay in a good place long enough. Tonight we were able to sustain the things we did well longer. These are two pretty evenly matched teams. It's like two old heavyweight fighters, just slugging it out."

Candace Parker
Candace Parker tallied 31 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block to help L.A. even the series.

Parker looked shell-shocked after Thursday night's loss, putting the Sparks in the position of having to win two straight -- including one on the road -- to advance to the Western Conference finals.

On Saturday night, as the national anthem was sung, she stood behind the ROTC students who were holding the American flag. Parker was nearly jumping out of her skin, swaying rapidly back and forth.

It was clear she wanted to get on the court as soon as possible and get on with the task of keeping her team alive to play another game.

She accomplished exactly that, with a 31-point performance that slightly out-did the 30 points that Taurasi put up on Thursday.

Parker said the Sparks have a bad habit of "doing things the hard way."

"We always put ourselves in tough situations, all year, and there's no changing things now, I guess," she said. "We just changed our mindset [tonight] more than our play."

More of that is what's needed on Monday night to finish the climb out of the hole the Sparks found themselves in after Game 1.

"I don't think we are going into this cocky or confident," Parker said. "Phoenix is a great team and we have our work cut out for us.

"We haven't done anything yet. We've won one game on their home floor. And that's great, but it doesn't get us into the next round. If we aren't starving for another victory in these circumstances, then I don't know what it would take."