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Sun overshadow Sparks in possible finals preview

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) -- Guarding Lisa Leslie can be a full-time
job, but it didn't rattle Taj McWilliams-Franklin.

The Connecticut forward scored 22 points to match her season
high and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Sun to a 72-63 win over
Leslie and the Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday night. Leslie, who is
having an MVP year, finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds, but
struggled early against the Sun defense.

"[Leslie] creates unique challenges because they give her the
ball almost every single time up the court," McWilliams-Franklin
said. "I don't think there's any other team whose player touches
the ball more. Whether she's swinging it or trying to score, the
ball goes to her and then the rest of the players.

Leslie did score the Sparks' first two baskets but not until
nearly 5 minutes had elapsed and was 2-of-8 in that stretch.
McWilliams-Franklin, meanwhile, had no such problem. She had six of
Connecticut's first eight points as the Sun opened with a 15-4 run.

"Taj is one of the smartest players in the league," Leslie
said. "She takes what the defense gives her. If you play up on
her, she'll drive around you. If you play off, she'll shoot it.
It's that simple."

In a matchup of the WNBA's top two teams, the Sun (23-6) got out
quickly to put the Western Conference leaders in a hole they never
could quite climb back from. The Eastern Conference leaders also
got 14 points from Katie Douglas to split the season series with
the Sparks (23-8), who were playing their seventh of eight straight
on the road.

The Sun's backups, as they have all season, came up big again in
this one. Reserve forward Asjha Jones dominated inside with 10
rebounds as the Sun outrebounded Los Angeles 45-35. Jamie Carey had
a career-high nine points and three assists.

"It's nice to have eight or nine people have a major impact on
the game," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. "We've been
preaching about winning big games and playoff games -- you need to
win two of three areas of rebounding, turnovers and free throws
difference and we won them all tonight."

Los Angeles sputtered under a stifling Sun defense in the first
quarter and shot just 2-of-16 in the first 10 minutes. The Sun
extended their lead to 11 in their first two possessions in the
second quarter. Then both teams had to contend with the elements as
a fierce thunderstorm outside dimmed the lights in the Mohegan Sun
Arena, stopping play twice.

When game resumed under generator-run lighting, the Sparks began
to rally against the Connecticut reserves. An 8-0 run fueled by
four points from Leslie cut the deficit to three.

The Sun starters returned with 4:47 left and outscored the
Sparks 10-7 the rest of the way to take a 28-22 lead at the break.

Connecticut scored the first seven points of the second half and
would lead by as many as 18.

Lisa Willis and Doneeka Hodges-Lewis, who combined for 23 off
the bench for Los Angeles, helped cut the lead to seven with 9:16
to play. The Sun then turned to McWilliams-Franklin who scored six
in an 11-0 run and the Sparks never recovered.

The Sparks were without Chamique Holdsclaw, who was sidelined
with a foot injury.

"We made a good run at it," Sparks coach Joe Bryant said.
"Then, we just made some mistakes defensively. I always preach
offense comes and goes but defense is everlasting."

Bryant is hopeful his team will have another chance against the
Sun, but this time with much higher stakes.

"I think this would be a super finals with these two teams,"
he said.