The Los Angeles Sparks are riding the longest active winning streak in the WNBA, thanks in large part to Kristi Toliver's superb play.
While Tulsa seems unlikely to slow them down, the Sparks can't afford to take an improving Shock team lightly.
Los Angeles tries to win 10 straight for the first time in 11 seasons when it visits Tulsa on Thursday night.
Though the Sparks (19-6) own the second-best record in the league, they've looked every bit like the WNBA's most dominant team of late. On the verge of its longest winning streak since a league-record 18 consecutive victories in 2001, Los Angeles has outscored opponents by an average of 15.3 points during its current run.
No one has had a bigger impact over that stretch than Toliver, who's averaged 23.0 points - 4.4 above her season mark - in the nine consecutive victories. She's made 16 of 25 from 3-point range in the Sparks' four games since the Olympic break.
"When you win, it's easy for people to identify their roles and accept their roles," she said. "Obviously during this win streak, people have been able to get a feel for what their supposed to do, and doing it well. Finally, everybody has embraced their role and (they) understand their role and know what they need to bring. We're a very tough team to beat when we're all on the same page and we understand that."
Toliver came through with another impressive performance Saturday versus New York, scoring a game-high 26 points in an 87-62 rout.
"I'm kind of accustomed to (seeing) it now," rookie forward Nneka Ogwumike said of Toliver. "She still leaves my jaw dropping. Having a scorer like that - I wouldn't even call her a shooter, she's a scorer. Being able to play off of someone like that is remarkable."
While Toliver had 21 points during the last matchup in this series June 26, it was Tulsa's Riquana Williams who stole the show, scoring a season-high 27 in the Shock's 91-75 victory.
Tulsa (5-19) carries a bit of momentum into this matchup, having won two of three for the first time this season. The Shock snapped their 13-game road losing streak dating to last year Tuesday, winning 84-80 over an Atlanta club that was without Angel McCoughtry.
"That was our first road win, so we're really excited about that," coach Gary Kloppenburg said. "I thought we executed down the stretch to win. We've had trouble finishing games."
While the Shock had something to celebrate Tuesday, they also learned that center Elizabeth Cambage won't be joining them this year. She won a bronze medal with Australia at the Olympics and was expected to make her season debut in this game.
"I think she definitely wants to be in our league and in Tulsa," Kloppenburg said. "But I think with our situation this year and her youth, you see with most of veteran players that they play in the Olympics and they're back. I think she's still learning how to come back."
- Kristi Toliver
- Los Angeles