<
>

Monarchs blast Comets out of orbit in Game 1 rout

HOUSTON (AP) -- The defending WNBA champions never expected their
playoff opener to go this smoothly.

Kara Lawson scored a career playoff high 18 points and Yolanda
Griffith added 16 points and nine rebounds as the Sacramento
Monarchs beat the Houston Comets 93-78 on Thursday night.

DeMya Walker scored 15 and Ticha Penicheiro dished out eight
assists for the Monarchs, who've won eight of nine playoff games
since the start of last season's title run. Their 93 points and 36
field goals were postseason franchise records.

"I am surprised we were able to win with such ease," said
Lawson.

The Monarchs lost three of four regular-season meetings with
Houston this year, but dominated this one from the start with
accurate shooting and smothering defense.

They led 58-30 at the break, setting WNBA playoff records for
points in a first half and largest halftime lead, and led by at
least 20 until Coach John Whisenant put in the backups in the final
minutes.

"I'd like to say we thought it was going to start out that
way," Lawson said. "We put a lot of focus and energy into
starting the game off right. We did, but then people came off the
bench and just kept it going."

The Monarchs lost two of their last three regular-season games
and five of their last six on the road. Griffith said they suddenly
were back to their championship form on Thursday night.

"Tonight was us playing Sacramento Monarchs' basketball,"
Griffith said. "We weren't worried about who they had on their
team. We ran our offense and knocked our shots down with
confidence."

Michelle Snow scored 15 and Tina Thompson had 13 for the Comets,
who suffered their worst playoff loss since a 69-48 loss to
Sacramento in 2003. They dropped to 0-3 in playoff games at the
Toyota Center, which opened before the 2004 season.

"I think we are all still waiting to show up for the game,"
said Sheryl Swoopes, who scored 10. "We flat-out didn't get the
job done on either end of the floor."

Van Chancellor, Houston's coach since the league's inception,
said he'd never seen a more complete performance from the Monarchs.

"That's the best I've ever seen them play, even during their
championship run," he said.

Thompson sank a jumper from the wing to give Houston its only
lead, at 2-0. Walker then hit three straight shots from close range
to start a 16-2 Monarchs' run.

The Comets were sloppy and out of sync from the start, missing
six of their first nine shots with two turnovers.

Dominique Canty, playing for the first time since missing 19
games with a broken finger, hit a free throw with 4:05 left in the
opening quarter to end a four-minute Houston scoring drought.

Snow's putback with 2:45 left in the first quarter was Houston's
first basket in five minutes and the Comets closed to within seven.
But Walker converted a three-point play and the Comets never
cracked a double-digit deficit again.

Griffith's three-point play and Nicole Powell's baseline jumper
in the first minute of the second quarter capped a 12-0 Monarchs'
spurt and extended the lead to 31-12.

After missing 12 of their first 15 shots, the Comets sank three
in a row, including a 3-pointer by Thompson.

By then it was way too late, and the comeback effort was further
crippled when Swoopes hurt her right hand fighting for a loose ball
with Penicheiro. Swoopes left the game with 4:45 left in the half as
the Monarchs continued the blowout.

Penicheiro swished an NBA-range 3-pointer from the wing a minute
later as the lead reached 20 points for the first time.

"That doesn't happen very often, for any team, playing your
best on both ends for an entire half," Lawson said.

Sacramento sank 22 of 35 shots (63 percent) and outrebounded
Houston 21-11 in the first half, while the Comets went 9 for 29 (31
percent) from the field with six turnovers.

"That's probably the best offense I've ever seen Sacramento
play," Chancellor said, "and the worst defense I've ever seen the
Comets play."

Swoopes started the second half with tape holding together her
right middle and ring fingers. She scored a quiet seven points
after the break.

Game 2 is Saturday in Sacramento.

Whisenant warned his team after the game that the Comets lost
their playoff opener last season, then won two games in Seattle to
advance.

"They're not quitters," Whisenant said. "They'll come
swinging and my players know that."

The series is a rematch of last year's Western Conference
finals, which the Monarchs won in a two-game sweep.