Rookie Jasmine Walker Leads Sparks to 85-85 Tie With Aces

In the last preseason game prior to kicking off their 25th anniversary season, the Sparks tied the Las Vegas Aces 85-85 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Sparks temporary home this season. No. 7 overall pick Jasmine Walker led the Sparks with 23 points and nine rebounds, shooting 7-for-11 on 3-pointers. Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson combined for 40 points for Las Vegas.

Guard Te’a Cooper opened the scoring with a mid-range jumper to put the Sparks up 2-0 less than a minute into the game. By the end of the quarter, the Sparks had raced out to a 23-14 lead, forcing 9 Aces turnovers in the process. In the first period, the Sparks were led by rookie forward and 2021 No. 7 overall draft pick Jasmine Walker’s 8 points and 4 rebounds. Center Liz Cambage kept the Aces in the game early with 7 first quarter points.

The Aces battled back in the second quarter, outscoring the Sparks 30-15 in the period and opening up a 44-38 lead at halftime. Las Vegas took advantage of a more than four-minute stretch without a field goal for the Sparks just before half. Much of the quarter featured Sparks guard Bria Holmes and Cambage trading baskets.

Holmes scored 8 points for the Sparks in the period, hitting a pair of shots from beyond the arc. Meanwhile Cambage racked up 12 points for the Aces, nearly all of them coming in the paint. At the half, the Sparks were led in scoring by Walker and Holmes, each with 8 points.

Forward Nia Coffey and Walker each collected 5 rebounds for the Sparks in the first two periods. Meanwhile, Cambage and reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson led the way for the Aces with 17 and 13 points, respectively. Forward Dearica Hamby reeled in a team-high 7 rebounds for Las Vegas in the first half.

The Sparks shot just 31.4% from the field in the first half, but stayed competitive by hitting 41.2% of their three-point attempts. Conversely the Aces shot an impressive 51.7% from the field in the first half, but missed all four of their three-point shots.

A tightly contested third quarter ended with the Sparks and Aces tied at 65. Cambage opened the second-half scoring with a layup on the first possession of the third quarter. Sparks superstar forward Nneka Ogwumike made her first field goal of the contest with 8:16 to go in the third on an and-1 layup. Ogwumike then quickly added 4 more points on consecutive possessions before finding center Kristine Anigwe underneath the hoop for an assist. The Sparks knotted up the score at 52 apiece on a three-point play by Cooper.

Trailing 57-54 with under 3:30 to go in the third quarter, Jasmine Walker hit three consecutive 3-pointers to put the Sparks up 63-57, in the process giving them their first lead since late in the first quarter. Walker led the Sparks with 9 points in the quarter. Meanwhile, Kelsey Plum helped the Aces weather Walker’s three-point barrage, scoring 8 of 10 points for the Aces over a four-and-a-half minute stretch, enough to lead her team in third quarter points.

In the fourth quarter, both teams relied heavily on the three-point ball. The Sparks hit 4 of 10 threes in the final period, while the Aces hit 4 of 5.

Aces guard Riquna Williams scored the first points of the fourth quarter with a Dearica Hamby-assisted three-pointer. She then proceeded to knock down two more threes in the Aces next three possessions.

However, the Sparks answered. Walker retained her hot hand from the third quarter, draining threes on consecutive possessions for the Sparks early in the fourth. Walker then found guard Erica Wheeler open for another Sparks three-point bucket. Coffey added a Sparks three-pointer with just under four minutes to go to tie the game at 81. With 41.8 seconds to go in regulation Coffey scored a long two-foot jump shot to tie the game 85-85. The Aces had an opportunity to take the lead and put the game away in the final seconds, but were unable to capitalize with Wilson missing at the buzzer.

Five Sparks — Walker, Ogwumike, Coffey, Cooper, and Holmes — scored in double figures. Walker led the way with 23 points, shooting a whopping 7-11 from downtown. With 9 rebounds, the rookie finished just shy of a double-double. Cooper and Wheeler recorded team-high assists with 5 each.

Cambage led the Aces with 21 points shooting 6-8 from the field and hitting 9 of 12 free throws. Wilson added 19 points for Las Vegas, going 7 of 14 from the floor. Hamby led her team with 9 rebounds, though Cambage reeled in 8 of her own.

As a team, the Sparks shot 41.3% from the field, 48.1 % from beyond the arc, and 92.9% from the charity strike. They were out-rebounded by Las Vegas 36-31 but forced 27 turnovers by the Aces while committing just 18 themselves.

The Sparks now get set to prepare for their first regular season contest — also a home game — on Friday, May 14 at 7:30 PM against the Dallas Wings.