LOS ANGELES — Sparks rookie center Kalani Brown spoke Thursday of another “welcome-to-the-league moment,” this one involving her tangle with Las Vegas Aces star Liz Cambage, which resulted in a flagrant foul for Cambage and a technical foul for Brown.
“That’s what we’ve gotta do, bring that aggressiveness every game,” Brown said after the Sparks’ 86-74 victory. “I think that’s what Coach (Derek Fisher) has been wanting out of me – not the technical. Just the aggressiveness.”
Lessons have been bountiful for Brown and fellow Sparks rookie Marina Mabrey – opponents in the NCAA championship game in April, when Brown’s Baylor team edged Notre Dame 82-81.
Now as professionals, they’re figuring it out together, both averaging 14.8 minutes per game, eighth-most among WNBA rookies, as the Sparks (5-6) enter Sunday’s 2 p.m. contest at Staples Center against the Chicago Sky (6-5).
With Fisher resting starter Nneka Ogwumike on Thursday, the 6-foot-7 Brown played 22 minutes and broke out with a career-best 12 points against the Aces and Cambage (who took to Twitter on Friday to dispute Brown’s account of what transpired). Brown also grabbed four rebounds, blocked a shot and recorded an assist – hitting Mabrey on a backdoor cut early in the fourth quarter to extend the Sparks’ lead to 73-55.
“The play of the game was definitely Kalani’s pass to Marina on the backdoor,” Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike said.
Hearing that, Mabrey piped in from across the locker room: “I was scared!”
“You finished it, though!” Ogwumike told her. “That’s all that matters.”
There, another kernel of wisdom.
“I’m never really sure what I’m doing out there, so I decided I was going backdoor for the first time this season,” Mabrey said. “And then I see two people coming, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And honestly, it didn’t look like (Brown) was gonna throw it at first, she hesitated and then I was like, ‘Don’t throw it now!’ And she did anyway.”
That they converted the play was a relief, Mabrey said.
“Sometimes, when we’re on the court together for a prolonged period of time, there’s a rookie turnover that happens,” said Mabrey, a 5-11 guard who is one of only nine WNBA rookies with a positive rating (+3.6).
“We had already pulled one … and then I was like, ‘Oh, no, we’re gonna do it again!’ But instead it worked out.”
The Sparks believe it will work more often than not for Mabrey (who’s averaging 4.9 points) and Brown (4.7 points), even as the latter likely will see her minutes squeezed when second-year center Maria Vadeeva returns from the EuroBasket tournament in a couple weeks.
“I give her so much credit,” Chiney Ogwumike said of Brown. “Everybody’s always talking to her, from the coaches to the players to the development coaches, everyone’s in her ear, and she just takes a deep breath and listens and goes out there and competes.
“We’re really proud of our rooks. Our rookies are princesses, but they get turnt, you know what I mean? They go hard.”
don’t lie, first I asked the refs, then your teammates then you to tie your hair back after I had been tangled in it and whipped in the face 5 times https://t.co/uOwvq2ri6C
— Elizabeth Cambage (@ecambage) June 28, 2019