NEW YORK (AP) - The Los Angeles Sparks have struggled to close out games this season.
Candace Parker and her Sparks teammates didn't have to worry about a late-game collapse Friday night, when a strong fourth quarter led to a 68-54 victory over the New York Liberty.
"It was nice to come away with a win," said Parker, who had 14 points. "We let them back in the game late in the third, but played great defense in the fourth."
Los Angeles held a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter before New York rallied to within two points. The Sparks then scored the final four points of the third quarter and held the Liberty to just four points in the fourth.
"I thought we were really good defensively for the most part," Sparks coach Carol Ross said. "I thought our defense carried us when we were struggling to score."
The Sparks (8-11) have lost five games when they held the lead in the final minutes. There was no such problem Friday night.
Nneka Ogwumike scored 15 points to lead the Sparks, who are in the midst of a four-game road trip. They will play Connecticut on Sunday in a game that features a matchup between Nneka and her sister Chiney, who attended Friday night's game.
Tina Charles scored 20 points for New York (7-13), which has dropped two straight games after a successful homestand during which the Liberty won four of five.
"You're not going to beat any team in this league scoring 54 points," Charles said.
Cappie Pondexter was held scoreless for the second time this season. She played only 18 minutes and missed all five of her shots. Coach Bill Laimbeer said after the game that Pondexter was injured in the loss to San Antonio on Wednesday.
"We didn't have the firepower offensive wise. Cappie wasn't able to go," he said. "Our offensive execution was poor and it showed in the stat sheet."
Pondexter said she was frustrated after the game, but didn't want to talk about her injury.
"Didn't have it tonight," she said. "It's frustrating, not for myself, but for my team. They need my presence. Wasn't able to get it done."
The game was tied at 29 midway through the second quarter when Los Angeles closed the half with a 13-4 run. Ogwumike got the spurt started with a steal and layup. Alana Beard had five points during the burst.
They extended the lead to 48-38 in the third quarter before New York rallied behind Charles. She scored eight points during a 12-4 run that brought the Liberty within 52-50 with 1:48 left in the period. That's as close as they got.
Los Angeles scored the final four points of the quarter and then held New York to just two points in the first 7 minutes of the fourth, outscoring the Liberty 12-2 to put the game away.
The game marked the Liberty debut for Swin Cash, who was acquired on Wednesday for Delisha Milton-Jones. The move reunited Cash with Laimbeer, who coached her for six years for in Detroit.
Cash entered the game for the first time late in the first quarter. She scored her first basket in the second quarter and finished the game with four points in 13 minutes.
Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg