SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- The Sacramento Monarchs earned the
city's first chance for a basketball championship.
Yolanda Griffith scored 19 points and Kara Lawson had 18 points,
nine rebounds and seven assists Saturday, leading the Monarchs to a
sweep of the Western Conference finals with a 74-65 win over the
After three previous failed attempts, the Monarchs reached the
WNBA Finals for the first time. The NBA's Kings have never played
for the title.
"I've been here seven years and Ticha (Penicheiro) has been
here eight, it's somewhere we've wanted to be for a long time, in
the Finals," said Griffith, who had seven rebounds. "It feels
great. We're excited. But there is something bigger we want -- a
Sacramento will face Connecticut, which is there for the second
straight year, in the opener of the best-of-five championship
series Wednesday night at Uncasville, Conn.
The Monarchs set the tone early against the Comets, scoring the
game's first two baskets and never trailing. The lead was 14 points
by halftime, and Houston never cut it below six the rest of the way
as Sacramento improved to 17-2 overall at home this year.
Sheryl Swoopes played all 40 minutes for Houston and had to work
for her 24 points, shooting 9-for-23 from the field. Tina Thompson
had 13 points and Janeth Arcain added 12. Both Swoopes and Thompson
had six rebounds.
"Sacramento is playing very well right now, they are hungry for
a championship," Swoopes said. "It's probably because I'm in the
Western Conference, but I think they will win it all."
Getting their latest victory was much easier thanks to Lawson,
who started at point guard in place of the injured Penicheiro.
Typically a shooting guard, Lawson alternated with rookie Kristin
Haynie at the point and also played off guard as well.
It was Lawson's best game of the year as she recorded playoff
career highs in points, rebounds and assists. Lawson made all four
3-pointers, finishing 6-for-9 from the field overall for the
Monarchs, who shot 53 percent and outrebounded the Comets 43-30.
"I wanted to be more of a table-setter in this game, but if I
had the looks I was going to take them," Lawson said. "I'm a
shooter. I'm always looking for my shot."
DeMya Walker, who missed the first round series with Los Angeles
due to a knee injury, made all five shots and scored 13 points.
Haynie scored eight points in just 14 minutes and Rebekkah Brunson
added seven points and six rebounds.
"Offensively, that's the best Sacramento has ever played
against us," Houston coach Val Chancellor said. "I've never seen
them shoot the ball so well from the outside."
It was another playoff exit for Houston, which won the league's
first four championships but has not been back in the Finals since
winning its last title in 2000.
"I'm tickled to death to win and beat a first-class team, that
makes the fact that we were able to beat them even sweeter,"
Sacramento coach John Whisenant said. "Now we have a chance to
achieve something that's never been done in franchise history."
Swoopes, who led the league in scoring this year, got going late
in the first half. She made consecutive 3-pointers to pull the
Comets to within 54-48 with 11:39 remaining, but the Monarchs
gradually built the lead back to double figures.
Sacramento swept the series without Penicheiro, who sprained her
left ankle in practice on Tuesday. Her status listed as
questionable for Game 1 of the Finals, although she says otherwise.
"I would have played tomorrow (Game 3) if we didn't win this
one," Penicheiro said. "Now I have four more days to get better,
which is great. I expect to play Wednesday."
The Monarchs established themselves early, with their typical
hounding defense and considerable balance on offense. Sacramento
shot 70 percent and mad all four 3-point attempts in taking a 44-30
lead at the break.
"You don't expect to shoot 70 percent and Kara was making NBA
threes," Whisenant said.
Griffith had seven early points inside and finished with nine in
the opening half. She was getting plenty of help from the athletic
Brunson, who had seven points and five rebounds. Lawson took
control during a late stretch, making consecutive 3-pointers and
converting a steal into a layup for a 42-27 lead with 1:31 left.
"There is a certain level of satisfaction (getting to the
Finals), to be one of the two teams left," Lawson said. "We're
here and now we have the opportunity to win a championship."