UC Riverside welcomes the WNBA in preseason game

Wesley Ng/HIGHLANDER
Wesley Ng/HIGHLANDER

On a sunny, bright day in Riverside, the sidewalks of UCR were filled with jovial children and adults alike all filing into the Student Recreation Center Arena. With the arena near capacity, the occasion was monumental for the university as it played host to a WNBA preseason game between the Los Angeles Sparks and Tulsa Shock. The Sparks, who begin their season on May 26, were defeated by the newly revamped Shock 82-67 in a game that featured amazing basketball moves on the court.

The Sparks opened the game on fire offensively as the team’s two star players, Candace Parker and Kristi Toliver, scored eight of the team’s first 10 points to give the Sparks a 10-7 advantage. Tulsa, who was playing without its third overall draft pick Skylar Diggins, received an 11-point quarter from Candice Wiggins as the Shock finished the first period ahead, 22-18.

The Shock exploded to start the second quarter, outscoring the Sparks 14-4 in the opening minutes to push the lead to 36-23. Sandwiched in between the Tulsa run, Toliver pulled off a tough between-the-legs, behind-the-back pass to a cutting Nneka Ogwumike that sent the crowd into a frenzy. A Parker coast-to-coast layup and Ogwumike jumper brought the Sparks to within eight points, 39-31, before a pair of Shock free throws closed the first half with Tulsa leading by ten, 41-31.

Following intermission, the Shock continued to build upon their lead with timely shooting and huge scoring bursts from the duo of Glory Johnson and Wiggins. Johnson, who finished the game with 22 points, capped off a 10-3 Tulsa run with a three-point play before a Roneeka Hodges 3-pointer moments later pushed the lead to nearly twenty, 66-47. With the crowd singing along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” Los Angeles pulled within 17 points following a Briana Gilbreath jumper, 71-54, but Wiggins immediately made a 3-pointer to sink any chance of a Sparks comeback as they eventually fell, 82-67.

While the game was one-sided, the entertainment presented to the audience was nearly flawless. During halftime, the crowd was treated to the dance moves of a 40-year-old plus cheerleading team called the “Ole Skool Crew.” Women of a certain age hyped up the audience as they shimmied around the court drenched in purple and gold, the official colors of the Sparks. UCR women’s basketball guard Brittany Crain even joined in on the fun as she squared off against one of the spectators in a dance-off. From T-shirt giveaways to friendly half-court competitions, the game produced a warm and inviting atmosphere that filled the arena.

The UC Riverside Athletics Department’s hosting of the game built a solid base that introduced new sports fans to the university and advertised UCR on a broader scale. Events such as the Sparks-Shock game and soccer’s Chivas de Guadalajara Legends have fueled interest in UCR while adding another dimension to the university’s athletic program.

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