A one-hit wonder, or a hope for the future?
That’s the biggest question to come out of Sunday’s Sky game at the Allstate Arena.
Players in the Sky locker room answered joyfully, and without hesitation, that it’s the latter.
They are convinced that the effort they gave in an inspiring and crisp 85-74 victory against one of the best teams in the WNBA, the Los Angeles Sparks, has been in them all along.
They say they are ready to put the losing of this season — 15 losses in the previous 17 games — to an end and be that dark-horse team that gets hot at just the right time: the start of the playoffs.
The Sky (10-16) is tied with the New York Liberty for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I feel like we’ve always been able to play like this from Day One. Now you all see what I see (every day in practice),” smiled 6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles, who was one of six Sky players in double figures. “But unfortunately we’ve had little scuffles along the way.
“Now, I feel like we’re back.”
Speaking of being back, Fowles seemed like she was just about back to her old self.
Fowles, who has been logging tough, physical minutes all season and took no extra time off after helping the U.S. women win the gold medal last month in London, has been run down physically and mentally.
Her exhaustion, and perhaps the frustration of the Sky’s long stretch of losses, came to a head when she missed two games last week for unexplained personal reasons.
In her first game back Saturday night at Indiana, it looked like Fowles’ struggles were about to take a turn for the worse.
She dinged up an already sore knee, left the game in tears and did not return. Her minutes were going to be monitored close against the Sparks. But it quickly became clear that “Big Syl” was in it for the long haul.
“I knew my teammates needed me back,” said Fowles, who scored 14 points and pulled down 9 rebounds in 35 minutes. “I had been mentally drained and, physically, my body just needed a break.
“I tend to just go, go, go, go go, even if I’m a little fatigued. Finally it caught up with me and just bopped me in the back of the head.
“I just tried to rest and recover, and now I’m back. I’m back and I’m in good spirits. I’m smiling, I don’t ever think you could take my smile away. It’s just been a little hidden lately.”
In contrast, the way the Sky beat the Sparks couldn’t have been more obvious.
Team basketball on offense was the best it has been all season, particularly in the second half, when the Sky erased a 43-33 halftime deficit within the first six minutes of the third quarter. The Sky rolled up a total of 25 assists en route to 50 percent shooting from the field.
Guards Epiphanny Prince and Courtney Vandersloot had 16 assists between them, with a career-high 9 and 7 respectively.
“We were just moving the ball well,” Prince said. “We did a lot of penetrate and kick, penetrate and kick, and we had people like Syl and Swin (Cash) open at the basket.
“Hopefully this can get us started. Everybody is playing with confidence now.”
Prince finished with a team-high 17 points, while Vandersloot scored 15 and Cash and Tamera Young added 13 and 11 points respectively.
Los Angeles was led by former Sky guard Kristi Toliver, who scored a game-high 19 points.
Naperville native Candace Parker, who is having an MVP season, finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds for the Sparks. Los Angeles (19-8) has lost two straight after having won nine in a row.
“We wanted to come out with a ‘W,’ but it’s always fun playing in front of my family and friends,” Parker said. “We just weren’t moving the ball. When we’re not getting stops on one end and we’re not moving the ball (on the other), it’s a problem.”
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