Parker pro debut makes UT proud
By: By ANDREW BAGNATO, AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) — Candace Parker had some jitters in her WNBA debut. It sure didn’t show.
Parker scored 34 points, the most in a WNBA debut, and added 12 rebounds to help the Los Angeles Sparks beat the defending champion Phoenix Mercury 99-94 on Saturday.
The previous high in a WNBA debut was 25 points by Cynthia Cooper in 1997.
“It obviously was better than I expected,” said the 6-foot-4 Parker, who led Tennessee to back-to-back national titles. “Coming out, I just wanted to play hard. I was a little nervous, and I think my teammates did a good job of just keeping me in it mentally and just not allowing me to get frustrated.”
The game was tied at 79 early in the fourth quarter when Parker took over. She scored 10 straight points to give the Sparks an 89-86 lead with 3:15 to play.
Parker, who made 6-of-7 shots in the final quarter, hit a short hook shot to put the Sparks up 97-94 with 12 seconds to go.
“She’s the money player,” Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper said. “Put the ball in her hands and she did what she’s supposed to do.”
Parker wore a brace on her left shoulder, which she dislocated during the NCAA tournament. It didn’t slow her one bit.
Parker came within two assists of becoming the first WNBA rookie to record a triple-double. Only one NBA player did it in his debut — Oscar Robertson, in 1960.
“Honestly, it was just finding the mismatch,” Parker said. “My teammates did a great job of just getting me the ball and just moving afterwards.”
Lisa Leslie, who missed last season on maternity leave, had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Sparks.
Cappie Pondexter, fighting off jet lag, scored 32 points for Phoenix but missed a potential tying 3-pointer with four seconds to go.
Pondexter arrived in Phoenix late Friday night after a long flight from Turkey, where she played during the WNBA offseason.
“She’s what you call a trooper,” Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said. “She had 32. I can’t wait until she gets a little sleep.”
Before the game, the Mercury celebrated their 2007 WNBA championship with a ring ceremony and the unveiling of US Airways Center’s lone basketball title banner.
Mercury star Diana Taurasi told the crowd of 13,749 that the Mercury aim to make it two in a row this season. But this is a different team.
Former coach Paul Westhead left after the season to join the Seattle SuperSonics’ staff, although he returned for the ring ceremony. And star forward Penny Taylor is back in her native Australia preparing for the Beijing Olympics.
With Phoenix-area resident Muhammad Ali watching from a baseline seat, the fired-up Mercury broke out to a 15-7 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Sparks answered with a 10-0 run capped by a pair of 3-pointers by Sidney Spencer, who hit 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the opening quarter.
Taurasi missed her first six shots, showing the effects of a stomach virus she contracted after returning from Russia this week. She was scoreless until she made a 3-pointer late in the first half. Taurasi finished with 24 points.