Liberty top Sparks for third straight win

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Sparks found out there's just no stopping Cappie Pondexter.

She scored 19 points and the New York Liberty pulled away in the third quarter to win 80-68 Tuesday night for their third consecutive victory.

"We're finally jelling, we're sticking to what the [coach] Anne Donovan game plan is," Pondexter said. "Our defensive energy has been there. We know if we play defense we can win because we've got enough good scorers on this team."

Noelle Quinn scored a career-high 24 points, topping her career-best for the second straight game, to lead the Sparks (3-11). They fell to 0-4 since leading scorer Candace Parker was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.

"I've been a little more aggressive looking for my shot," Quinn said.

Marie Ferdinand-Harris, who replaced Parker in the starting lineup, added 12 points.

"The third quarter has been our Achilles' heel this year," Quinn said. "We have to put together a whole 40-minute game. That's what always kills us."

Pondexter continued the tear she's been on for the last four games, maintaining her 20-point average over that stretch.

Former Sparks player Taj McWilliams-Franklin added 14 points and Plenette Pierson had 13 for the Liberty (7-7), who controlled the boards 35-22 and improved to 2-4 on the road.

"Same old plague -- rebounds," first-year Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom said. "We got to do a better job of controlling the boards. It's why we're not winning ballgames."

New York led 44-35 at halftime, then used a 20-7 run to take its largest lead, 66-45, late in the third quarter. The Sparks chipped away at the deficit in the fourth, when outscored the Liberty 17-14, but never got closer than 12 points.

"We did have mental lapses, in the fourth quarter we kind of let up," Pondexter said. "We can take that with us to the next game because we play Phoenix next and we know we can't have any letups against Phoenix."

The Liberty closed the first half on an 18-9 run. McWilliams-Franklin scored six points and Essence Carson added four.

The Sparks shot 62 percent from the floor in the first quarter, when their biggest lead was five points.

"Our execution wasn't as great in the second half as it was in the first quarter," Gillom said, "especially when teams come at us really physically. We got to be able to sustain their hits."

The Sparks are down to nine players with the losses of Parker and guard Betty Lennox, who has elected to have left knee surgery and will be out four to six weeks.

"We have to make adjustments every day," veteran Tina Thompson said. "We have players playing in different positions, but we're working through it."