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SPARKS IN GAME SHAPE SPARKS 78, PHOENIX 69.

Byline: A.J. Perez Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - Playing their first game since winning the 2001 WNBA title, the Sparks dominated play early in the second half to spur a 78-69 victory over the Phoenix Mercury in an exhibition game in front of 3,447 at the Pyramid.

``Last year I challenged them to become WNBA champions and they did that,'' said coach Michael Cooper, who set a goal last month for his team to run the table en route to a second consecutive WNBA title. ``You have to present the team with a different challenge each year. I'll take 31-1. But 32-0 is something this league hasn't seen.''

Cooper wasn't happy with his team's intensity Saturday, but the Sparks showed signs of life after halftime. After seven lead changes, a jumper by Tamecka Dixon gave the Sparks the lead for good two minutes into the second half.

Dixon's jumper also ignited a 9-0 run that was capped by a DeLisha Milton layup with 16:14 left to put the Sparks up 49-40. A Lisa Leslie layup gave the Sparks a 15-point lead, their largest of the game, two minutes later.

Leslie, the reigning league MVP, and rookie guard Nikki Teasley - who was acquired on April 19 via a trade with Portland - each scored 15 points to lead the Sparks' offense. Leslie played 22 of the 40 minutes.

The Mercury was led by 14-point outings by guard Adriana Moises and backup forward Shea Mahoney.

Cooper said he expects to cut the 17-player roster down to 14 as soon as today. He used much of Saturday's game as a final test to determine who will make the team, as all but two players saw playing time.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 12, 2002
Words:285
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