Mercury Drop Opener in Sparkling Debut for LAs Parker

PHOENIX, May 17 (AP) -- Candace Parker scored 34 points, the most ever in a WNBA debut, and added 12 rebounds to help the Los Angeles Sparks beat the defending champion Phoenix Mercury 99-94 on Saturday.

The previous high in a WNBA debut was 25 points by Cynthia Cooper in 1997.

The game was tied at 79 early in the fourth quarter when Parker, who led Tennessee to back-to-back NCAA titles, took over. She scored 10 straight points to give the Sparks an 89-86 lead with 3:15 to play.

Parker, who made 6-of-7 shots in the final quarter, hit a short hook shot to put the Sparks up 97-94 with 12 seconds to go.

Parker wore a brace on her left shoulder, which she dislocated during the NCAA tournament. It didn't slow her one bit.

Parker came within two assists of becoming the first WNBA rookie to record a triple-double. Only one NBA player did it in his debut -- Oscar Robertson, in 1960.

Cappie Pondexter scored 32 points for Phoenix but missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 4 seconds to go. Lisa Leslie, who missed last season on maternity leave, had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Sparks.

Before the game, the Mercury celebrated their 2007 WNBA championship with a ring ceremony and the unveiling of US Airways Center's lone basketball title banner.

Mercury star Diana Taurasi told the crowd of 13,749 that the Mercury aim to make it two in a row this season. But this is a different team.

Former coach Paul Westhead left after the season to join the Seattle SuperSonics' staff, although he returned for the ring ceremony. And star forward Penny Taylor is back in her native Australia preparing for the Beijing Olympics.

With Phoenix-area resident Muhammad Ali watching from a baseline seat, the fired-up Mercury broke out to a 15-7 lead midway through the first quarter.

The Sparks answered with a 10-0 run capped by a pair of 3-pointers by Sidney Spencer, who hit 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the opening quarter.

Taurasi missed her first six shots, showing the effects of a stomach virus she contracted after returning from Russia this week. She was scoreless until she made a 3-pointer late in the first half. Taurasi finished with 24 points.

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