Sparks fall behind early and get pummeled by the Minnesota Lynx

It did not go as planned. Before the Sparks versus Lynx game tipped off Wednesday night, Arena was buzzing with hype music, purple and yellow lights were flashing and fans were on their feet — an ideal setting for a home win.

The fan energy rose throughout the night, but so did the Lynx’s domination of the scoreboard. The Sparks were no match for Minnesota, which earned a decisive 86-62 win on Wednesday.

After an 11-0 run by Minnesota to open the contest, the Sparks couldn’t catch up, letting the Lynx build a 20-point lead in the second quarter. Minnesota led 45-26 at the half and maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the game.

“It was a really disappointing game tonight on both sides of the ball,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said. “We really talked about how important the start was and to find ourselves in the hole right away just set the tone.”

Napheesa Collier made 10 of 15 from the field for Minnesota, four of five from the free-throw line and added two steals while Kayla McBride recorded 13 points, three rebounds and three assists. The game was altered by foul trouble for the Sparks and Lynx, who put up 20 and 18, respectively.

Dearica Hamby led the Sparks with 17 points and 11 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season. Layshia Clarendon, who returned from a concussion-triggered absence, added seven points, four rebounds and a pair of steals.

Hamby noted the team’s offensive struggles, shooting 26% from the field.

“We knew they would be overly physical and post players would be really good defensively,” Hamby said of the Lynx. “We were just soft and vulnerable to their ball pressure. We just have to be better.”

The Sparks have struggled with their opponents’ aggressive play all season and it remained a factor against Minnesota.

“We are really struggling in the physicality and everyone is seeing it on film and that’s what we are getting every night from every team,” Miller said. “The physicality is being allowed in this league and we have got to adjust to it, I’ve got to do my job and help them. Right now we are getting out-toughed.”

The third quarter saw the Lynx extend their lead over the Sparks to a game-high 28 points. Minnesota’s Cecilia Zandalasini committed a flagrant foul on Rae Burrell, who fell to the floor clutching her shin. Burrell left the game but quickly returned to the court.

The Sparks began to play with a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter and narrowed the gap to 12 at one point, but they still weren’t able to capitalize on shooting opportunities and struggled to get past a relentless Lynx defense.

With Wednesday’s loss, the Sparks dropped to 2-7. They continue their search for their second home win of the season at 7 p.m. Friday against the Dallas Wings. While the loss was disappointing, the team sees it as a learning opportunity.

“We don’t have time to fix things, we’ve got to be able to fix things during games in this type of season,” Miller said. “They are disappointed and know they aren’t playing to the level they hold themselves to, but they aren’t discouraged. They believe that these things can be corrected but need to throw the first punch and eliminate the slow first quarters.”

Hamby has tried to instill optimism in the locker room and encourages her teammates to find the heart and passion they showed during preseason games.

Rebuilding just takes time.

“Losing is deflating but, big picture, we know it’s a long season and we are rebuilding in a sense and people just need to find their confidence again,” Hamby said. “You have to light a fire under people’s butts and see how they will respond.”

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