UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Kristi Toliver wants the ball when the game is at its toughest.
Toliver scored 19 points, including two key jumpers down the stretch, and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Sparks past the Connecticut Sun 74-72 on Tuesday night.
"I think my teammates wanted me to have that ball in that situation," Toliver said. "I know my coaches did. That's where I thrive and enjoy the most."
Nneka Ogwumike had 15 points and nine rebounds for Los Angeles (14-7) and Jantel Lavender added 14 points. The Sparks' Candace Parker missed her third straight game due to a right wrist injury.
Tina Charles had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Sun (6-13) and Allison Hightower added 12 points, four assists and three steals.
Los Angeles led 49-36 early in the third quarter, but Connecticut cut its deficit to a point twice in the final 2 minutes. Both times, Toliver made a difficult jumper on the other end to help the Sparks maintain their edge.
"I shoot the ball better with a hand in my face," Toliver said. "I think I need more heat on (me)."
The Sparks got a boost from Lavender, starting in place of Parker. The reserve center scored all of her points in the first half and helped Los Angeles take a 43-36 lead into halftime.
"She's got a real skill set offensively," Sparks coach Carol Ross said. "But because she plays behind Parker, it's not always on display. But she's been big. She's stepped in to a starting role and relly has done a great job with it."
Connecticut scored the game's first eight points, but played from behind almost the majority of the time. Lavender scored four points during an 8-0 run to give Los Angeles a 39-29 lead with more than 2 minutes left in the first half.
"That second quarter, that hurt us," Connecticut's Renee Montgomery (13 points) said. "We can't keep getting down by that large amount. We did the same thing with New York (on Saturday), but we came back (and won).
"We've got to make sure that fight that we had the whole second half, we have to have it for four quarters, not three. Today we had three. The end of that second quarter was rough."
The Sun trailed 69-59 with more than 4 minutes remaining in the game when it made one last run. Kelly Faris started it with a 3-pointer, Hightower had a three-point play, and Montgomery's 3 made it 69-68 with 2:05 left.
Toliver made a 19-foot turnaround, fadeaway jumper to stop the Sun's run.
Charles made two free throws to again cut Los Angeles' lead to a point.
Toliver stepped back and made a 21-foot jumper on the other end to push the Sparks ahead 73-70 with 1:04 left.
"She's got a lot of confidence and moxie," Ross said. "It doesn't matter what happens in the first 38 minutes of the game. When things are on the line and tough, she wants the ball. We want her to have the ball."