Sparks earn chance for threepeat


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Lisa Leslie's performance reminded Sacramento
Monarchs coach John Whisenant of another Los Angeles basketball

"Lisa Leslie is the Shaquille O'Neal of the WNBA,'' Whisenant
said. "She is a handful. She is both an offensive and defensive

Leslie hit a short baseline jump shot with 9.8 seconds to go,
then sank a pair of free throws with 6 seconds left as the Sparks
beat the Sacramento Monarchs 66-63 Monday night in Game 3 of the
Western Conference Finals.

"Those free throws were huge,'' she said. "I feel lucky to
have made them considering how poorly we shot from the line
(6-for-12) all night.''

Leslie finished with 26 points for the two-time defending
champion Sparks, who will host the Detroit Shock in the WNBA finals starting Friday
night in a best-of-three series for the title.

The coaches are former NBA opponents Bill Laimbeer of Detroit and Michael Cooper of Los Angeles. Cooper helped the Lakers beat Laimbeer and the Pistons for the NBA title in 1988. The next year, Detroit and Laimbeer beat Cooper and the Lakers for the first of its two straight titles.

"The Sparks are here and we are the legitimate champions,''
Cooper said. "I feel very comfortable and confident and in a sense
cocky that we will be the last team standing.''

After Leslie's short jumper from the baseline made it 64-62,
DeMya Walker pulled the Monarchs within a point by making the first
of two free throws. But her miss of the second was rebounded by
Leslie, who was fouled.

After Leslie made both foul shots, Sacramento's Kara Lawson
missed on 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

Mwadi Mabika added 16 points for the Sparks. Nikki Teasley had
13 points and 10 rebounds.

Walker scored 16 points to lead the Monarchs, who got 15 from
Tangela Smith. Yolanda Griffith had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

"It hurts, but we played Sacramento Monarchs basketball
tonight,'' Griffith said of her team's second-half recovery from a
14-point deficit. "We'll learn from this. We know we're a great
team, and we'll start off next season the way we ended this

Lawson tied the Western Conference championship game at 62 on a
17-foot jumper from the right wing with 32.5 seconds left.

The Sparks called timeout, then set up Leslie on the right
baseline, coming off a screen by Mabika. Leslie took a pass from
Teasley on the right wing and made a 4-footer.

"She got me the ball and I didn't have much room to make that
shot,'' Leslie said. "I was actually behind the backboard when I
got the ball.''

Los Angeles won the battle of shooting percentages from the
field, hitting 48.2 percent (27-for-56). Sacramento hit 43.6
percent of its field goal attempts (24-for-55).

The Sparks put together a 12-4 run to open the second half and
led 50-36 with 16:04 left. But the Monarchs went on a 16-2 run of
their own, tying it at 52 on two free throws by Lawson with 8:37 to

The Sparks took a 38-32 halftime lead on 50 percent (16-for-32)
field goal shooting. Leslie had 15 points and 5 rebounds in the
first 20 minutes.

The Monarchs, patient in their half-court set, effectively shut
down the Sparks' transition game in the early going.

That changed when the Sparks' defense keyed an 11-0 run that
produced a 22-12 lead at the midway point of the first half.

Ticha Penicheiro, whose 16 points keyed Sacramento's 77-69
victory in Game 1 last Friday night, played only six minutes in
last Sunday's Game 2 because of a bruised a rib.

She received medication and was taped for Monday night's
deciding game, but played just 17 minutes, scoring two points. Sacramento's other starting guard, Edna Campbell, failed to score and missed all three of her attempts from the field.

The second game of the WNBA Finals will be in Detroit on Sunday.
If a third game is necessary, it will be in Detroit on Tuesday,
Sept. 16.