Lawson overcomes injuries to help lead Monarchs

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- At one point during this season, Kara Lawson had to go to the dermatologist because of her sprained ankle.

Well, not to treat the ankle. Rather, to find out why her hair was falling out. She hurt her left ankle during Sacramento's season opener, sat out seven games and then still wasn't herself when she came back.

The body has its ways of showing you when it's ticked off or worried about or upset with what's going on in your mind. So it sometimes does stuff like make you start losing hair. That's what happened to Lawson.

"They said it was just stress," she said. "I was frustrated because I'd never sat out games before. Your team is winning, and you want to help them win and be a part of it.

"There were times I didn't know if I would get back to play again, or be the same player I was when I came into training camp."

Lawson said all this with a little smile, though, because she has overcome it. She was standing in the winning locker room after Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday, with her Monarchs now one game away from the franchise's first
league title.

Yolanda Griffith continued her push to be Finals MVP, leading Sacramento with 19 points and 11 rebounds in a 66-55 victory against Connecticut at Arco Arena. Nicole Powell had 12 points, with some big early 3-pointers. Ticha Penicheiro's way of celebrating her 31st birthday was dragging her sprained ankle through 31 minutes, getting three points, three assists and six rebounds.

As has typically been the case this season, everyone had her part to play in the Monarchs' win. And Lawson's role was crucial, as she scored 16 points, made both her 3-point attempts and went six of six from the line.

Those half-dozen free throws all came in the final minute -- it's called "icing the victory." If she misses, maybe Connecticut comes down, makes a couple of shots and who knows what might happen. But she didn't miss.

"It's not too much pressure," Lawson said of going to the line at crunch time. "You just go up there and do what you've always done."

Then she laughed a bit at how, unfailingly, she seeks to have the ball in her hands at the ends of games.

"I've always wanted the ball whether the coaches that I've had wanted me to have it or not," Lawson said. "I think you have to relish that."

Certainly on Sunday, coach John Whisenant and the rest of the Monarchs were glad Lawson had it in that last minute.

"We're always like, 'Give the ball to Kara. They're going to foul her!' " Sacramento's DeMya Walker said. "She makes them all in practice, so she might as well make 'em all in the game. Really, you can't say enough about her. She never loses confidence."

That's part of what made Lawson one of the great "characters" in the long-running collegiate drama "Tennessee vs. Connecticut: Who's the Most Evil Empire?" Lawson loves the camera, the bright lights, the big moments. She loves to perform. She loves to be booed. She loves to high-five and do fist-pumps and might be the (unofficial) women's basketball record-holder for facial contortions during games.

Lawson "feels" every second of her time on court, which is why she's the classic "love to play with her/hate to play against her" competitor. She's just constantly intense.

And it's also why she was afraid she was going to need Rogaine or something during this season. Lawson was practically worrying herself bald.

"She came into camp having worked really hard on weights and eating right," Whisenant said. "Then she sprained that ankle in the first game, and when she came back, she wasn't the same Kara.

"She couldn't get her rhythm and didn't have the same lift on her jump shot. She is not the quickest player in the league anyway. She plays amazingly well being a step slow -- and I don't think she would mind me saying that. Until she got her wheels back, it was hard. Every time she'd almost get there, she'd re-tweak it in practice or somebody would kick it.
It took all season to get Kara back to playing like Kara."

Lawson thought she was there by Aug. 20, when the Monarchs were host to Seattle. She had 18 points, a season high. She was gearing up for the playoffs. Then in the next game, against Phoenix, she "popped out" her shoulder and missed the final two regular-season contests. She was "questionable" for the playoffs.

Yeah, right.

Lawson has played every game of the postseason, averaging 12.1 points and 4.0 rebounds. She was especially critical for Sacramento in the Western Conference Finals against Houston, when Penicheiro was out with her ankle sprain. In the clinching Game 2 against the Comets, Lawson tied her season high with 18 points and set a season-best with nine rebounds.

Lawson, of course, played for a perennial Final Four program -- but never won an NCAA title at Tennessee. In fact, none of the Monarchs won a national championship in college.

Lawson said it's not necessarily something that motivates her now in the pros, but

"That is something I'd like to do with this team," she said of winning a league title. "This has been the best team I've ever played on, the most fun team. Because everyone wants to win for each other.

"It's been a special year so far. It's funny, because in the midst of probably my hardest year ever individually, it's been the most successful team I've been a part of. It's funny how it sometimes works out that way."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.