Monarchs eliminate L.A. to advance to West finals

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Frequently victimized by the Los
Angeles Sparks during the playoffs in previous years, suddenly it's
the Sacramento Monarchs who own the upper hand.
The Monarchs got 13 points apiece from Ticha Penicheiro and
Yolanda Griffith, and swept the Sparks out of the WNBA playoffs
with an 81-63 victory Friday night.
The Monarchs pulled away in the second half to win the Western
Conference series in two games. It was the second straight
first-round exit for the Sparks, who also lost to Sacramento in
The Monarchs will play the winner of the Seattle-Houston series.
Game 3 of that matchup is Saturday night in Seattle.
Prior to last season, the Sparks had eliminated the Monarchs
from the playoffs three straight times and dominated them in the
regular season as well.
A year ago, the Monarchs upset the conference champions by
winning the pivotal third game in Los Angeles.
"We have grown, we're not scared of them, maybe before there
was an intimidation factor, we got beat all the time," said
Penicheiro, who also had six rebounds, six assists, three steals
and two blocks. "Now we're over the hump, we've got their
It was a rough season for the Sparks, who struggled through
injuries and inconsistent played and needed a late run under
interim coach Joe Bryant to even make the playoffs with a 17-17
With six games left in the season, Bryant replaced head coach
Henry Bibby, who departed through a mutual agreement with Los
Angeles management.
"We played eight games in the last 15 days, it was really
difficult to change things," said Bryant, who would like to return
as head coach.
Rebekkah Brunson had 13 points and nine rebounds for the
Monarchs, who defeated Los Angeles 75-72 in Game 1. Kara Lawson
added 11 points and Hamchetou Maiga 10.
Tamika Whitmore had 15 points and Nikki Teasley 14 for Los
Angeles, which committed 18 turnovers. Making only her second
career start, Raffaella Masciadri connected on three 3s and had a
career-high 13 points.
"We've only won what we've won before, we have to win the next
series to get into the finals for the first time," Sacramento
coach John Whisenant said. "But beating them two straight is quite
an accomplishment."
Leslie never got going offensively. Holdsclaw shot 3-of-12 and
had seven points. Bothered by foul problems, Leslie was 1-for-5
with six points and eight rebounds.
"Give credit to the Sacramento defense, they did an exceptional
job," Teasley said. "Their guards really pressure the ball and
made it tough for us to get the ball inside to Lisa and Chamique.
Then when we did, they would double- and triple-team them."
This will be Sacramento's fourth appearance in the Western
Conference finals. The Monarchs, who lost last year to eventual
league champion Seattle in the conference finals, never have
advanced to the WNBA Finals.
With Los Angeles coming out strong in the second half and
cutting the lead to two points, it was the Monarchs regaining
control, running off 16 straight points for a 72-54 lead with 5:47
"I looked at the scoreboard and saw we were only up by two
points," Penicheiro said. "I said, 'Uh oh, I better do
something.' I tried to push the ball and be more aggressive."
Two of those points came when Bryant and Teasley vehemently
argued a call and were whistled for technicals. Lawson made them
pay, making both free throws to the dismay of Bryant, who took off
his suit jacket for much of a physical second half.
"Let the players determine the outcome of the game," Bryant
said. "When you have a good game going on you don't call
ticky-tack fouls."
Trailing by 14 points, the Sparks opened the second half showing
some offense for the first time all game. They had a 14-3 surge,
highlighted by Masciadri's rare four-point play.
Getting production inside from Brunson and also on the perimeter
from an unlikely source in Chelsea Newton, the Monarchs held a
43-29 halftime lead. The athletic Brunson scored nine points and
Newton had eight for Sacramento, which used a 9-0 run to take
control of the game.