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Charles, Liberty top Sparks 66-64

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Tina Charles and the New York Liberty knew the Los Angeles Sparks would come out with extra energy for their new coach, Penny Toler. But the Liberty prevailed with their own motivation.

Charles had 31 points and 15 rebounds to lead New York to a 66-64 win against the Sparks on Wednesday night, spoiling the coaching debut of Toler.

Cappie Pondexter added 16 points as the Liberty (9-13) snapped an eight-game road losing streak, dating to their only other road win in their season opener May 16. New York took advantage of the absence of Sparks leading scorer Candace Parker, who is day-to-day with an left knee strain, and outrebounded the Sparks, 42-34.

The Liberty entered the game with a league-worst 1-8 road record but moved into fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

''Sometimes we have seasons like that,'' Charles said. ''It's not going to be pretty. It's not how you start. It's how you finish. It's the second half of the season and we got the first one. It feels great.

''Before the game, (coach Bill Laimbeer) said we need to take the rest of the season as if every game's a playoff game. I took that to heart. Right now, we're in a good stand.''

Charles scored on a jumper to give the Liberty a 66-62 lead and blocked Jantel Lavender on the Sparks' next possession. The Sparks pulled to 66-64 when Nneka Ogwumike scored on a baseline jumper. Plenette Pierson missed two free throws to give the Sparks a chance to win or tie, but Kristi Toliver missed a 3-point attempt and Lavender missed the putback.

Ogwumike led the Sparks (10-13) with 23 points and eight rebounds and Lavender had 16 points and eight rebounds. Toler was named interim coach in addition to her general manager duties Sunday after former coach Carol Ross was fired.

Toler pulled players aside at times for advice but was ultimately disappointed with her team's continuing rebounding issues even though Parker was out.

''That was the one negative that I said to them,'' Toler said. ''That was one of the keys for the game and we got outrebounded. We needed to have the ball because those are like possessions . as you saw down the stretch, when we needed key rebounds we didn't get those either. At that point, you have to pretty much say, `I've got to get this ball.' And we didn't get the ball.''

Pondexter made back-to-back long jumpers to give New York the lead for good at 64-62. It was the second straight game that Pondexter started slow but delivered late. She started out 3-for-10 from the field and Laimbeer moved her to the other guard spot.

Pondexter was grateful to get out of the building with a win as New York began a stretch of six of seven on the road.

''We felt that they would come out with a great deal of energy,'' Pondexter said. ''I think not having Candace on the floor, which is their leader, it took a lot for them, offensive-wise. It was a great win for us. That's the only thing I can really think about.''

The Sparks began stretch of five games in seven days. They fell to a league-worst 3-8 at home, a major reason for the coaching change.

''I think it's always something to adjust to, but I think everybody took it maturely and kind of kept going,'' Ogwumike said. ''You can't stop, because no one else in the league is stopping.

''A lot of changes have been made this year for our team, and we're trying not to let what may seem like a distraction keep us from winning.''

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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