Liberty-Sparks Preview

The Associated Press

The Los Angeles Sparks are now the WNBA's hottest team with the longest win streak in the league.

The Sparks look to make it nine straight victories Saturday night when they host a New York Liberty team that has won three of four since the Olympic break.

Los Angeles (18-6) ended San Antonio's 12-game win streak with a 101-77 rout Thursday. The Sparks had dropped their first three meetings with the Silver Stars before building a 24-point advantage at halftime and leading by as many as 34.

"We didn't want to get swept," point guard Kristi Toliver said. "That was an added thing, but we were just trying to come out defensively and play really well and just be really aggressive."

Toliver matched career highs with 29 points and six 3-pointers made and Alana Beard added 21 points.

The Sparks limited San Antonio to 43.2 percent shooting and held top scorer Becky Hammon to five points on 2-of-10 shooting.

"The month off that we had, we really worked on our team defense and that showed tonight," Beard said.

After keeping Hammon in check, Los Angeles will face another top perimeter player in Cappie Pondexter. The Liberty guard is second in the league in scoring with 20.8 points per game.

Pondexter scored 31 on Thursday as New York (9-13) won 89-77 over Phoenix. That performance came two days after she had 25 in a 77-67 victory at Chicago, and she's averaging 24.3 points and shooting 47.8 percent (11 of 23) on 3-pointers over the last four games.

While the Sparks have clinched a playoff spot and are one game behind Minnesota for the WNBA's best record, the Liberty are in a tight battle with the Sky for the fourth and final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We have to stay afloat," Pondexter said. "Our goal is to win eight more games to be in a safe position."

New York is shooting 36.2 percent on 3-pointers for the season, but has made 43.8 percent during this 3-1 stretch after hitting 13 of 27 on Thursday.

"Since the break we've been playing better because we got everyone healthy and we've been able to practice with healthy people," coach John Whisenant said. "And we've been making shots. Coaching is a lot easier when we make shots."

Point guard Leilani Mitchell has also shot well since the break, connecting on 11 of 19 from beyond the arc. Mitchell had 13 points, seven assists and no turnovers Thursday for New York, which completes its five-game road stretch Sunday in Seattle.

The Liberty have won 10 of their last 14 versus the Sparks. These teams split two 2011 meetings, with Los Angeles ending a four-game home losing streak in the series with a 96-91 victory June 21.

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