Katie Lou Samuelson, Sparks newcomers bright spots in latest loss

Katie Lou Samuelson tied her career high with three 3-pointers made in her debut with the Sparks on Tuesday night. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

When Liz Cambage tied the game with a turnaround 9-footer and headed to the free-throw line with 15.1 seconds left in the Sparks’ home opener against the Minnesota Lynx, it appeared she may be the hero in her Crypto.com Arena debut. The 6-foot-8 Aussie missed the freebie, however, to keep the score deadlocked.

On the ensuing possession, Kayle McBride completed a three-point play with 2.1 seconds remaining after getting fouled on a reverse layup. It proved to be the game-winner, as Jordin Canada missed a desperation 3-pointer with time expiring and the Sparks lost their third straight game, 87-84.

McBride, who landed in Los Angeles from Turkey around 2 p.m. on Monday, poured in a game-high 24 points for the Lynx, hitting four of seven 3-pointers she attempted. Fifteen of the guard’s points came in the first quarter, including nine in the final 50.1 seconds of the frame.

Sparks guard Katie Lou Samuelson also came a long way to make her 2022 WNBA season debut Tuesday night, enduring an eight-hour bus ride Friday and a 12-plus-hour flight on Saturday to return from overseas. After winning the Spanish league championship last Thursday, Samuelson tied her career high with three 3-pointers made for Los Angeles on Tuesday.

The former fourth overall draft pick first entered the game at the 5:33 mark of the first quarter, promptly nailing back-to-back 3s and drawing an offensive foul by taking an elbow to her chin.

“For them to make that commitment and play right off the plane, that’s remarkable,” Nneka Ogwumike said of McBride and Samuelson. “And not just play, show out. They both hooped tonight.”

Ogwumike showed out herself, leading L.A. with a season-high 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the floor, along with eight rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers.

In the paint, Cambage had her hands full with Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles, who contributed 20 points and 12 rebounds in a game-high 39 minutes before fouling out. Cambage, limited to just 25 minutes due to foul trouble, finished with 12 points, seven boards, three assists and three blocks.

After the Lynx went ahead 51-44 with 6:20 to go in the third, Lexie Brown led the Sparks on an 11-2 run to give them a 55-53 advantage. Making her home debut, Brown sank three 3-pointers and recorded an assist, a block and a steal in the last 5:44 of the quarter. The 27-year-old also forced another Lynx turnover by deflecting McBride’s dribble out of bounds off the Minnesota guard.

Brown hit four of six 3-pointers Tuesday night, with her most important shot of the night evening the score at 82 with 53.3 seconds left in the game.

“My confidence is through the roof,” said Brown, who played for the Lynx from 2019-20.

Two other Sparks newcomers provided boosts in their home debuts. Chennedy Carter, after scoring a combined two points on 1-for-12 shooting in the previous two contests, picked up eight points in 11 minutes, going 4-for-5 from the floor. Jordin Canada, meanwhile, contributed eight points, six assists and three steals.

“My favorite part about playing (at Crypto.com Arena) is seeing new teammates play here for the first time on the Sparks,” Ogwumike said. “It’s intoxicating. We have to honor that and protect home court.”

The Sparks will have to wait until next Wednesday’s matchup with the Phoenix Mercury to get their first win at home, rebranded as Crypto.com Arena from the Staples Center late last year.

In the meantime, the Sparks have their latest disappointing result to digest: a loss to previously winless Minnesota, who got 64 of its 87 points from three players (McBride, Fowles and Moriah Jefferson).

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.