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Fred Williams and Sparks continue searching for answers after loss to Aces

If anything, Fred Williams looked the part.

After two years of polo shirts and quarter-zips, the Sparks’ new interim coach ascended to the lead chair dressed in a black suit, crisp white shirt and pale purple tie. His team’s performance didn’t match the coaching staff’s upgraded wardrobe, however.

Desperate for stable footing after splitting from coach Derek Fisher last week, the Sparks lost 89-72 to the league-leading Las Vegas Aces on Saturday at Crypto.com Arena.

Aces forwards A’ja Wilson (35 points, 11 rebounds) and Dearica Hamby (20 points, eight rebounds) overpowered the Sparks, who dropped their second consecutive game. The WNBA’s best offense, led by Kelsey Plum (17 points, eight assists) and former Sparks point guard Chelsea Gray, buried the Sparks in a 26-point hole by the third quarter.

For a team in turmoil, Williams found a lighthearted moment after the game, saying he didn’t want to lose by 28, which was how much the Aces (11-2) clobbered the Sparks by last month.

“I got what I needed to get in and get on film and get game-tested,” Williams said. “We’ve been practice-tested, but we need to get game-tested. And we got tested with one of the best teams in the league.”

The Sparks (5-8) thought they had star power to match the Aces entering the season. But Nneka Ogwumike mustered only 16 points and nine rebounds to lead the slumping team. All-Star center Liz Cambage had just six points and six rebounds.

Sparks assistant coach Latricia Trammell, left, and interim head coach Fred Williams stand on the court before Saturday’s game between the Sparks and Las Vegas Aces.

(Meg Oliphant / Getty Images)

“She’s still getting her conditioning up and she’s getting triple-teamed inside,” said Williams, who coached Cambage in Dallas. “Sometimes she comes up empty because everyone’s collapsing on her and sometimes gets frustrated, and she’s gotta learn to play through it. Once she gets that out of her system, she’ll be a lot better.”

Cambage, who arrived in L.A. from Las Vegas in February, was expected to play a critical role in the team’s revival after it missed last season’s playoffs. Fisher’s vision for the four-time WNBA All-Star sold her on coming to L.A. to help the struggling franchise regain its championship relevance, but the coaching change has given the team a new test.

“When stuff at the top starts swaying, the base is going to buckle if you’re not holding it up,” Cambage said.

Fisher’s tenure ended with a dramatic fall on defense. After being one of the WNBA’s best defensive teams the last three years, the Sparks had a 107.2 defensive rating entering Saturday’s game that was on pace for the worst in franchise history. The matchup between the league’s worst defense and the best offense went as expected.

In addition to replacing Fisher as general manager, the Sparks are conducting their fourth coaching search in the last 10 years. Ogwumike, who was drafted by the Sparks in 2012, took the news of the latest change with grace, but also said, “I’d like to experience it less.”

The 11-year veteran is the longest-tenured Sparks player, a pillar of consistency for a team that’s struggled to find its identity in recent years. The franchise once leaned on Candace Parker, but sensing the wobbly future, the two-time MVP bolted to Chicago last year.

Despite the increasing questions around the Sparks, Ogwumike doesn’t anticipate a similar split in her future.

“I’ve always had faith in L.A.,” Ogwumike said last week. “I don’t see myself wearing any other jersey; at least that’s how I feel right now, that’s what I’ve always felt and I’m here to contribute to that stability. I love this team, I love this city, I love this organization.”

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