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Monarchs back in Finals after extinguishing Sparks

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Playing aggressive defense, the
Sacramento Monarchs took the Los Angeles Sparks out of their game.

Yolanda Griffith scored 15 points to lead the Monarchs into the
WNBA finals for the second straight season with a 72-58 victory
over the Sparks on Saturday night. The Sparks were held to 37
percent shooting for the game and got outrebounded 40-25.

"We know we're a great team," Griffith said.

The Monarchs clinched the Western Conference finals 2-0 and
remain undefeated in the playoffs. They will defend their league
title against either Connecticut or Detroit, which play a deciding
third game in the Eastern Conference on Sunday.

Kara Lawson had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Monarchs,
whose bench outscored the Sparks' reserves 23-7.

"We attacked and knocked down some open shots," Lawson said.
"We were getting to the free throw line. When we play that well
defensively, it carries over to offense. We did a good job of
corralling their emotion."

Tamara Moore scored 16 points for the top-seeded Sparks, who
trailed the entire game and were eliminated by the Monarchs for the
third consecutive year. Los Angeles didn't make it out of the first
round in 2004 and 2005.

Lisa Leslie was limited to 10 points and four rebounds, the
former MVP's second straight poor offensive outing. She had seven
points and 11 rebounds in Game 1 Thursday.

"She missed some easy chippies under the basket," Sparks coach
Joe Bryant said. "It's like Tiger Woods missing some 5-foot putts.

Mawadi Mabika added 15 points for the Sparks, forced out of
their downtown Los Angeles arena by an "American Idol" concert.

The Sparks imported their own court -- bearing Leslie's autograph
-- and baskets to Arrowhead Pond, home of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks.

Their fans, clad in yellow T-shirts, showed up, too, although the
arena's uppermost level was empty. Sacramento fans holding "Beat
LA" signs filled a section.

"It wasn't fair," Griffith said about the change of venue.

Sacramento blew the game open in the second quarter, when the
Sparks dissolved in a rash of turnovers and missed baskets. They
shot 24 percent from the floor and were held to eight points.

Reserves Scholanda Dorrell and Rebekkah Brunson took turns with
7-0 scoring runs for the Monarchs, who shot 46 percent in the half.

"They played with nothing to lose," Moore said. "We weren't
playing with that win-or-go-home mentality in the first half."

The Monarchs led 45-21 at the break, with the Sparks tying a
season low for points in a half.

"To get down that far in the first half was a stunner for all
of us," Leslie said.

The Sparks' frustration boiled over, with Temeka Johnson of Los
Angeles and Kristin Haynie of Sacramento called for double
technicals, and Mabika getting a flagrant foul.

Then longtime rivals Leslie and Griffith were whistled for
double technicals. Griffith fell diving for the ball, got up and
bumped Leslie, who pushed back before a referee intervened.

"It was heat of the moment, a couple of words were said,"
Griffith said.

The Sparks staged a brief third-quarter rally, cutting their
deficit to 56-41 heading into the final 10 minutes. Moore scored 12
points in the spurt. But the Monarchs scored the first seven points
of the fourth -- five by Lawson for a 63-40 lead.

"We were just outplayed," Leslie said.

Harassed by Sacramento's double teams, Leslie opened the game
shooting 1-for-5 and was replaced by Chamique Holdsclaw, who played
for the first time since the opening round. Leslie didn't start the
second quarter and returned with just under five minutes to play.

"They have so many players in the post. Always someone on me,
always some contact," Leslie said. "I didn't have the physicality
to sustain."

The Sparks were 3-0 against Sacramento during the regular
season.