SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Dan Hughes wondered who would step up in the absence of his top two players, and the San Antonio Silver Stars coach got the answers he was looking for Saturday night.
Shenise Johnson scored 19 points, Danielle Robinson had 18 and the Silver Stars overcame a big game from Candace Parker in an 83-78 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday night.
Parker had 27 points and 20 rebounds to lead the Sparks (1-1), who had won three straight against the Silver Stars.
“A couple of times you could see we had to make a play,” Hughes said. “We had to make a defensive play; we had to make an offensive play (and they did). This group is a new situation. Who do we play through, how do we work together? I was just pleased to see them handle that.”
San Antonio is without injured All-Stars Sophia Young and Becky Hammon.
The Sparks pulled to 80-78, but Robinson was 4 for 4 on free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the victory for the Silver Stars. She had missed two free throws with 54.4 seconds remaining after being intentionally fouled by Parker, but Hughes opted to continue playing through his third-year guard down the stretch.
“I knew coming into this season that was going to be more of an expanded role for me, especially with Bec (Hammon) out,” Robinson said. “You’ve got to be able to handle pressure, you’ve got to take it and enjoy it, and that’s what I did tonight.”
Jia Perkins added 14 points and Danielle Adams had 12 points for San Antonio (1-1), which was swept by Los Angeles in the opening round of last season’s playoffs.
Lindsey Harding scored 18 points and Ebony Hoffman had 13 for the Sparks.
With Johnson leading the way, San Antonio’s bench outscored Los Angeles’ 36-19 to rebound from a 79-64 loss in its season opener.
“Coach, he murdered us this week (in practice) to be honest,” Johnson said. “He murdered us and it showed on the court tonight. He was building our toughness. We came out and displayed that.”
The Sparks had difficulty defending the second-year guard, who went 8 for 13 from the field against a series of defenders. Johnson had 12 points in the first half, including an open 19-foot jumper after Jenna O’Hea stumbled trying to defend a cross-over dribble.
“Shenise Johnson’s ability to just go get buckets, for this just to be her second year in the league, she’s playing like a vet,” said DeLisha Milton-Jones, the former Sparks star in her first season with the Silver Stars. “If she can keep that aggressive mentality, it’s going to benefit us in the end.”
Parker kept Los Angeles within striking distance with an active first half. She had 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks while playing 10 minutes in the first two quarters. One of the blocks came when the 6-foot-4 post ran down 5-11 Davellyn White from behind on a fast-break layup attempt.
“Candace Parker is just a handful,” Hughes said. “At least in that regard we made her take 22 shots, but she’s just a hard guard in situations.”
Perkins scored the Silver Stars’ first nine points as they raced to a 9-2 lead.
Harding had a jumper and a 3-pointer during a 7-0 run, to take a 13-12 lead with 4 minutes left in the first quarter.
Five different players scored as San Antonio opened the second half on 12-0 run that gave the Silver Stars a 57-52 lead.
Harding’s layup broke a nearly four-minute drought for the Sparks, and sparked a 13-0 run that pulled them to 57-55.
“We were scoring, but so were they,” Los Angeles coach Carol Ross said. “The tone was set in a negative way on the defensive end, and we were just in a fight and in scramble mode pretty much throughout the game.”
Hammon missed her second straight game with a broken right middle finger. She sported a purple cast while sitting on the bench throughout the game.
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