By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
AP Basketball Writer
MINNEAPOLIS — Nneka Ogwumike has a bandage under her right eye to mask the stitches she took from an elbow in the paint. Sylvia Fowles’ right eye is red and bloodshot from the battles being waged on the glass.
The WNBA Finals rematch between the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx has pushed both teams to their limits, and all that remains is one last game in this season.
Winner take all. Again.
“It wouldn’t be the finals without a scratch here and there,” Ogwumike said. “I enjoy it. It’s a great opportunity to be on this main stage competing with the best. I’m not going to back down. You can’t. It wouldn’t be worth it.”
For the second straight season, the Sparks and Lynx will need a deciding Game 5 to crown a champion. In the 12 games between the start of last year’s finals and Game 5 of this series to night in Minnesota, the cumulative score has been 908-908. Last year, the Sparks grabbed the organization’s third title with a last-second put-back from Ogwumike to beat the Lynx at Target Center.
If the Sparks are going to be the WNBA’s first repeat champion since 2002, they have to win one more game in Minnesota, this time at raucous Williams Arena.
“It challenges your mental more than your physical,” Lynx guard Seimone Augustus said. “We all want to get to this point in our career where we’re playing in a Game 5 and playing for a championship. This is what we always talk about. College, high school, pro, this is what we live for as athletes.”
The Lynx were on the verge of elimination in Game 4 on Sunday, but responded by pounding the Sparks on the glass and winning 80-69 to send the series back to Minnesota. Fowles, the league MVP, went for 22 points and 14 rebounds to help the Lynx to a 48-28 rebounding advantage.
At this point, after so many games and so many high-pressure moments, there are no more tricks to pull, no more surprises to unveil.
“It’s no secrets. There’s not a play we’re going to call tomorrow that they won’t know. There’s not a defensive scheme that we won’t know,” Augustus said. “Tomorrow is just focusing on details and just heart. Heart and guts.”
The Lynx, who are looking for their fourth championship in seven years, will need to get rugged power forward Rebekkah Brunson going to have a chance against the athletic Sparks. In Minnesota’s two victories in the series, Brunson has averaged 15.0 points and 8.0 rebounds. In their two losses, she has just 4.0 points and 2.5 boards.
“We can look at it as a disappointment that we’re playing a Game 5 or we can look at it as an opportunity,” Sparks star Candace Parker said. “I think if you poll anyone around the league asking if you had one game and an opportunity to win a championship, would you take it? I’m sure everybody would take that.”
The Lynx pulled more than 19,000 fans into Target Center for Game 5 last year. Williams Arena, on the campus of the University of Minnesota, has a capacity below 15,000. But in the old “Barn,” as it’s called, there is no place for the noise to go. And if history is any indication, this one is going to come right down to the closing seconds.
“It speaks to the rivalry ,” Ogwumike said. “I think that’s pretty spectacular. That speaks to the evolution of the game, the evolution of this competition that we have between each other. I would hope everybody enjoys watching it as much as we love playing in it.”