SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Stars are on the brink of a playoff return despite struggling mightily down the stretch.
Kayla McBride scored 21 points, Jayne Appel tied a franchise record with 20 rebounds and San Antonio beat the Los Angeles Sparks 82-76 on Sunday afternoon, snapping a four-game losing streak.
San Antonio (14-18) can clinch a playoff berth in the West with a victory in its final two games, or losses by Tulsa (12-19) and Seattle (11-20), which owns a tiebreaker over the Stars. The Storm hosted the Shock later Sunday, which would move San Antonio closer to its seventh playoff berth in eight seasons.
The Stars had lost nine of their last 11, but managed to pull within a half-game of the Sparks (14-17) for third place.
"I think we got a little bit of a monkey off our back after that four-game losing streak," McBride said. "I don't think we were playing well consistently. I think today they had their runs, but we were consistent, defensively and offensively. That's what we need to be all the time. That's the type of team we are, we're very team oriented. We don't have superstars like that. We have to come in and play together and I think we did that today, that's why were so successful."
Sophia Young-Malcolm and Danielle Robinson had 14 points apiece and Jia Perkins added 12 for San Antonio.
Appel had 13 defensive rebounds and eight points on 4-for-7 shooting. Her production was especially critical with the Stars losing Danielle Adams, who left the game midway through the first quarter with concussion-like symptoms after hitting her head on the court after taking a charge.
"Coach told us at the beginning of the game, he challenged us to get every rebound," Appel said. "The first one, the second one, the third one. That's something that, especially with this team being so big, Los Angeles, that the post can really focus on and really go to work on. It was definitely a focus from the beginning of the game for us."
The Sparks' frontcourt of Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker and Jantel Lavender finished with a combined 19 rebounds.
Ogwumike scored 18 points, Lavender added 15 and Alana Beard had 13 for Los Angeles. Parker had seven points on 3-for-12 shooting.
Perkins hit a floating jumper in the lane with a minute remaining to give San Antonio a 75-74 lead and Robinson stole a pass on the ensuing trip.
Becky Hammon, who had nine points and three assists, drained a 3-pointer with 26 seconds remaining to give San Antonio a 78-74 lead.
"Missed defensive assignment, obviously" Los Angeles coach Penny Toler said. "At the end of the day, I don't want to blame one person. It's unfortunate that it came down to that. Obviously, when Becky comes in, you know what she's coming in to do."
McBride closed the win out with a pair of free throws.
"I think that's been something that we've struggled with throughout the year, is being inconsistent throughout the game," Ogwumike said. "It can even get down to 38 minutes, and then the last two minutes we have to be able to capitalize on those types of opportunities. These close games going into the playoffs, it's going to be a playoff atmosphere, and that's what we need to expect and be ready to play against."
McBride converted a three-point play to give San Antonio a 54-43 lead with 3:34 left in the third quarter. Ogwumike responded by scoring eight of Los Angeles' final 13 points of the third to cut the lead to 61-56.
The run continued with Harding hitting a jumper to put the Sparks ahead 66-65 with 4:48. There were five lead changes following that basket capped by Perkins' jumper.