Monarchs know they let title slip away

Updated: September 10, 2006, 12:34 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

DETROIT -- The crying in the Sacramento locker room came from DeMya Walker's infant daughter, Zachara. She seemed to have the standard baby problems: hungry or tired or generally fussy or something like that.

Ticha Penicheiro
Carlos Osorio/AP PhotoThey had several opportunities to clinch their WNBA repeat, but Ticha Penicheiro and the Monarchs just couldn't get it done.

She didn't know, of course, that her mom's team had just lost the WNBA Finals. Walker, cradling the little one, sat at her locker and shook her head.

"I'd like to say there was a reason," she said when asked about why the Monarchs' offense went south in the third quarter of Game 5, just when Detroit's came alive. "We were getting the same shots. Maybe [Detroit] was a tad more aggressive defensively. But for the most part, they just didn't fall.

"But we're not based on being an offensive team anyway. What it came down to is if we don't score, we can't let them score. They came down and got really easy baskets in the first couple of possessions that we had limited in the first half. That kind of got their engines going. A team like that, when they're down, you've got to keep them down. You can't let them see daylight."

The way this all turned out will bug the Monarchs for a while. Too many times, they had chances to shut out Detroit's "daylight" and didn't do it. Last Friday at halftime of Game 2 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, it seemed preposterous to suggest this series would come back to Detroit. It looked very much like it was going to be a Sacramento sweep, over on Sunday in Game 3 at Arco Arena.

Then, Detroit's Katie Smith hit a 3-pointer -- her first of the game -- near the end of the third quarter. That momentum carried into the final period, when Detroit blew out the Monarchs and won 73-63.

Still, after the Monarchs stomped the Shock in the third game, it again appeared that Sacramento was going to repeat. Just one more victory was needed, at Arco Arena on Wednesday.

But that didn't happen.

"We lost our serve in Sacramento," Monarchs coach John Whisenant said, making the tennis analogy. "We had our chance."

But Sacramento still looked in control through the first half of Saturday's Game 5, leading by eight points. It was still the Monarchs' title to lose. And then …

Detroit went on a 10-0 run to start the third quarter and took the lead. Sacramento was 2-of-19 from the field in that quarter, while Detroit was 9-of-16.

"They got out in transition, which is what they want to do, and we didn't get back," Sacramento's Nicole Powell said. "They rebound and they run, and we let them do what they wanted to do."

Meanwhile, the Monarchs couldn't do much of anything they wanted to do offensively in the second half.

"I think [Detroit] played hard," Powell said. "But, honestly, our offense broke down again. We stood around. It was the same thing that happened last game. We tried to fix it and, you know, we didn't fix it.

"It was not executing, holding the ball too long at times, shooting jumpers early in the offense. We were taking bad shots. It's hard enough to score on Detroit when you're taking good shots, let alone with bad shots."

Powell finished the game 2-for-7 from the field, adding four free throws for her nine points. She made the Monarchs' final basket, a 3-pointer with 33.2 seconds left. That cut Detroit's lead to 78-75. With a stop, the Monarchs still had a chance to send this game into overtime. But they didn't get that; Smith hit a jumper with 14.8 seconds to go, and that really was the end for Sacramento.

Yolanda Griffith went 3-of-11 and scored 11 points. The best offensive player for Sacramento was Kara Lawson with 17 points.

As was the case in Game 2, Monarchs' starting point guard Ticha Penicheiro really struggled from the field. She was 1-of-8 Saturday, and was 0-for-8 in Game 2. Meanwhile, Kristin Haynie came off the bench and hit 5-of-8 shots for 13 points.

Whisenant was asked if Haynie should have gotten even more minutes -- she played 17:22 compared to Penicheiro's 18:10 -- because of the offensive spark she brought.

"Kristin's got to be a better defender. That's all there is to it," Whisenant said. "She's going to be a good player in this league. Offensively, she is already a pretty darned good player. She just has difficulty with our defense.

"But [Deanna] Nolan is tough on Ticha and DeMya, too, who are better defenders. So I can always look back and say I should have given Haynie more minutes. It may be something I'll second-guess myself for later."

Certainly, all the Monarchs will do some second-guessing in the days to come. The locker rooms are just down the hall from each other at Joe Louis Arena. So while the Shock sprayed champagne and whooped it up in a celebration, the Monarchs sat with looks of frustration.

Remember, however, that the Monarchs had quite a bit to overcome just to make it this far. Lawson was sick at the start of the season, and Walker had just given birth in April. Whisenant said then he wasn't sure what Sacramento would get from either of them this season. Griffith is playing -- and will play again next season, she has indicated -- despite a lot of pain in her knees. In many ways, making the WNBA Finals was quite an accomplishment for Sacramento.

It's hard to be very reflective, though, when you've just lost a series you think you had multiple chances to win.

"I'm just so ticked right now," Powell said. "I'm so angry. They are a good team, but we didn't play as a team. We got selfish, and that's not the way we play. We had a great opportunity. I'm just really not happy with the way things turned out."

And then … something about the look on Powell's face changed ever so slightly. You could see in her eyes the thoughts flashing in her mind. It was a very neat moment, actually, because as upset as she was as a competitor, Powell was reminding herself of "perspective" as a person.

"It is a basketball game, and there are a lot more important things going on," she said. "When I get over my anger, I'll see it in perspective. It was a good series, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to play in it and be a part of it."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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