August 15, 2020
Sparks’ depth starting to show in consecutive wins
Los Angeles benefiting from Kristine Anigwe's emergence
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BRADENTON- JULY 17: Reshanda Gray, Te’ a Cooper, and Kristine Anigwe of the Los Angeles Sparks poses for a portrait during Media Day on July 17, 2020, at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Before the WNBA season began last month, the Los Angeles Sparks were considered one of the deepest teams in the league even with the absences of Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver. From players one through 12, they had depth at every position albeit having some young, somewhat inexperienced players.
Nine games into the season now, their depth is starting to show. It was very evident in their 81-64 win over the Washington Mystics on Thursday. It was the Sparks’ third consecutive win and 42 of their 81 points came from the bench.
Throughout training camp, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher stressed the importance of all 12 players on the roster especially with an abbreviated season such as this with games every other day. After the win over the Mystics, he reiterated the need to have every player on the roster able to contribute when called upon.
“We try to play as many players as possible that we feel put us in the best position to win that night. Every night it doesn’t happen that way, but we talk to our players a lot about staying ready for your opportunities,” Fisher said. “For good teams, it’s important to have some depth. We tend to focus on the star players and the big names, but I do believe those complementary role players make all the difference in the world.
When Chiney announced that she would be sitting out this season, Kristine Anigwe was someone who figured to be a beneficiary of more playing time. She was a talented player in the paint while at Cal and a rebounding machine.
She didn’t play much during the first half of last season as a rookie on a veteran Connecticut Sun team with championship aspirations. When she was traded midseason to a rebuilding Dallas Wings, she got more of an opportunity to play.
She began the season as the first big off the bench and has gradually carved out a role as a tough interior player who brings a lot of energy to the second unit. Against the Mystics, she had one of the best games of her career thus far tying a career-high eight points on a perfect 4-4 from the field, and three rebounds.
While she’s been a solid inside presence, she’s been working on expanding her game to include shooting range out the three-point line to make her even more of a threat off the bench.
“I practice that every single day. Even the days that I don’t play that many minutes, I go back in the gym and just work with coach and he’s really given me that confidence to shoot the ball,” Anigwe said. “I’m really comfortable, I’m really confident, and I’ve been working on that. I’m proud of myself but also really appreciative of my coaches for believing in me.”
Another key player off the bench so far has been rookie Te’ a Cooper. She was signed as extra depth when Toliver decided to sit out and has since earned a role for herself steadying the second unit. She was a good three-point shooter in college, something the team desperately needed, but where she’s made her mark is with her ball-handling and playmaking ability.
She’s earned Fisher’s trust as a rookie and she’s done well as a second unit leader on the court whenever she comes in the game. She keeps the ball moving offensively and she gives it her all on the defensive side as well.
“I feel like me and Fish have a great relationship. I can ask him questions, he makes sure I’m aware of what happens, he puts me in situations to where I can show my strengths, and really just be a point guard and distribute the ball and get my teammates open,” Cooper said. “I have great teammates, I have phenomenal players on the court to play with. They make it easy for me and try to make it just as easy for them.”
Written by David Yapkowitz
David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.