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First-round loss is 1st in L.A. team history

LOS ANGELES -- The Sacramento Monarchs refused to let the Los Angeles Sparks end their championship hopes again.

Tangela Smith, DeMya Walker and Kara Lawson each scored 17 points Tuesday night to lead the Monarchs over the Sparks 73-58 and into WNBA Western Conference finals.

Yolanda Griffith added 14 points and eight rebounds for the Monarchs, who won the best-of-three series 2-1. Sacramento will face the Seattle Storm on Friday.

Sacramento had never defeated Los Angeles in a playoff series. The teams met three other times, including in last year's conference finals.

"It is a great accomplishment," Griffith said. "I told my teammates that this is the strongest we have played in my six-year career with the Sacramento Monarchs. They finally understand what it takes to get to the next level."

Los Angeles, which had the league's best regular-season record at 25-9, was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for the first time.

"Can you believe the Sparks made history," Lisa Leslie said. "It's a very unusual feeling for us. But I guess history doesn't always repeat itself."

Mwadi Mabika led the Sparks with 19 points. Teasley added 16 points and Leslie finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Despite being outrebounded 38-25, the Monarchs used their defense to generate a transition game. Sacramento had 14 steals and forced 21 turnovers that led to 17 points.

"Our defense was the key," Smith said. "They're used to running at us. We just wanted to stop their transition, run at them and match or supersede their intensity. We just tried to beat them at their own game."

The Sparks led 31-28 with 4:28 left in the first half but Sacramento used an 8-2 run to move ahead 36-33 at halftime.

Walker's driving layup off the second-half tip-off and a basket by Griffith extended the Monarchs' lead to 40-33 just 45 seconds gone into the second half. The Sparks missed nine of their first 11 shots in that half.

Nikki Teasley's 3-pointer cut Los Angeles' deficit to 42-39 with 17:18 to play. But Smith scored seven points during a 9-2 spurt that extended the lead to 51-41 with 13:02 left.

The Monarchs made 10 of 11 free throws in the final 3:06 to secure their victory. Los Angeles scored only six points in the final 2:45.