LOS ANGELES (AP) — When the Sparks acquired veteran guard Lindsey Harding in the offseason, it opened up possibilities for Los Angeles.
On Sunday, everything opened up for Harding, who showed how effective she can be on her fourth team in seven years.
Harding scored a season-high 22 points and had seven assists, and Candace Parker had 20 points to lead the Sparks to a 79-69 win against the Washington Mystics.
Harding went 6-for-9 shooting from the field and made all 10 free throws in 40 minutes of action. Parker also had seven rebounds and four blocks and Neka Ogwumike added 15 points and nine rebounds as the Sparks (5-2) won their third straight game and remained undefeated at home.
“You just have to shoot with confidence and play and take what they give you,” Harding said. “I knew that if I can hit from the outside it would open it up a lot for the inside, especially for Candace. You have to be confident and take the shots.”
Crystal Langhorne led the Mystics (4-4) with 16 points and 13 rebounds, but Washington went winless on a three-game road trip. Tayler Hill also had 16 points in a reserve role.
Harding, who played on Eastern Conference champion Washington in 2010, turned in a key sequence in the fourth quarter. She tied up Ivory Latta on a drive and forced a turnover after Latta pulled Washington to 71-63. Harding then took a nice pass from Parker and scored near the baseline to push the lead back to 10.
Harding ran the point for 40 minutes and committed two turnovers. She did not commit a foul until 2.3 seconds remained in the third quarter.
“She’s an aggressive point guard who sees the floor well, pushes in transition and attacks,” said teammate Alana Beard, who played with Harding in Washington and at Duke. “On top of all of that, she plays really good defense, so it’s nothing unusual from Lindsey.”
Washington closed to eight points down seven times in the fourth quarter, but got no closer.
Mystics leading scorer Latta was held to five points on 2-for-8 shooting. She cut the deficit to 63-55 early in the fourth quarter after sitting for most of the third.
“Every time she ran a pick and roll, they trapped her,” Washington coach Mike Thibault said. “And they have big bodies with long arms and they never give it up. It’s fine if she’s making shots and she gets assists, but that didn’t happen. (She was) better in the second half – she found people a little bit more. And I think she got into a situation where she started walking it up a little. That doesn’t play into our strength right now.”
Thibault switched up his lineup and started Matee Ajavon and Michelle Snow for the first time this season. The rookie Hill delivered what Thibault called her best game of the season as she went 6 of 7.
Los Angeles started the third quarter on a 10-0 run after Parker completed a three-point play on a left-handed basket. Her free throw gave the Sparks their biggest lead at 57-37. Washington committed eight turnovers in the third quarter.
The Sparks took a 47-37 lead into halftime on 16 points from Harding, who went 5 for 6 from the field with six assists and four rebounds.
“We kind of dared her to shoot some jump shots in the first half, and she made them all,” Thibault said. “We were just trying to pick our poison, and she made us pay for it. So probably we won’t play her that way next time.”
Parker scored the final two baskets of the first half, on an inside feed from Harding and a breakaway layup, and ended Washington’s last possession with a block.
Washington went on a 9-2 run capped by Ajavon’s left-handed bank shot to pull to 43-37. Langhorne scored four of her 12 first-half points on baskets in the paint during the run, while Latta was scoreless on three shots.
Washington missed 16 of its first 22 field goal attempts before Hill made a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 26-15 after the first quarter.
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