Final

Shock 69

(23-11, 9-8 away)

    Coverage: ESPN2/WatchESPN

    4:30 PM ET, September 3, 2006

    1 2 3 4 T
    TUL 18 15 17 1969
    SAC 20 24 28 1789

    Top Performers

    Tulsa: D. Nolan 22 Pts, 5 Reb, 1 Stl

    Sacramento: N. Powell 14 Pts, 6 Reb, 3 Ast, 2 Stl

    Monarchs beat Shock, close in on another crown

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Erin Buescher just hoped to catch some iron with her awkward fling at the basket, yet her shot-clock-beating 3-pointer went in.

    She ran upcourt with her arms spread wide, wearing a look of exhilaration -- but not disbelief.

    Yolanda Griffith
    Yolanda Griffith, right, scored eight of her team-high 15 points during a 2 minute, 28 second span in the second quarter. (Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

    Everything was going the Monarchs' way again in the WNBA Finals, and they got to the brink of their second straight championship with an 89-69 victory over the Detroit Shock in Game 3 on Sunday.

    "Yeah, I've been practicing that a lot, and my practice paid off," Buescher said with a smirk, recalling a shot that wouldn't please any coach. "Throw them up, and they go in."

    That basket and the win weren't as easy as they looked, but the Monarchs have a chance to end their tumultuous season with another championship banner in Game 4 of the best-of-five series on Wednesday night.

    Yolanda Griffith scored 15 points for the Monarchs, and Nicole Powell had 14. Buescher and DeMya Walker had 11 points apiece as Sacramento shook off its fourth-quarter collapse in Game 2 with a wire-to-wire victory based on defense and depth -- the two foundations of coach John Whisenant's back-to-back powerhouses.

    "I think my team believes that we can win, but I just told them it's like playing with the rattlesnake," Whisenant said. "You get too close, get overconfident, and they will bite you."

    Sacramento never trailed and led by 27 points while eight Monarchs scored at least seven points. The defense forced 23 turnovers by the demoralized Shock in their third straight blowout loss in Arco Arena, where the Monarchs have won 11 straight playoff games since 2001.

    "It's always good to finish a championship with your home crowd," Griffith said.

    Sacramento's reserves led a decisive 14-3 run to close the third quarter, doubling the Monarchs' lead to 22 points in 3½ minutes. Buescher punctuated that surge with the strange 3-pointer that somehow seemed natural when Sacramento was rolling.

    Nothing was nearly as easy for Detroit, which got 22 points from Deanna Nolan but precious little from the rest of its vaunted starting lineup.

    Coach Bill Laimbeer castigated his team both during and after the game -- saying the Shock "lost our brain," calling center Ruth Riley "overmatched" and saying Nolan "floated" for much of the game.

    "It was clear before the game started, we were going to be in trouble," Laimbeer said. "I didn't think we were ready to play as hard as we had to win a game in their building. ... In the middle of this game, we stopped playing. That's unacceptable behavior for a professional athlete."

    Laimbeer also blamed the officiating. Detroit was whistled for 28 fouls to Sacramento's 23 after the clubs were called for 42 fouls apiece in the first two games combined.

    "We're tired of there being a double standard on the whistle," he said. "We expect -- no, we demand -- that we get the same calls as the other team. Did the referees lose the game for us? Absolutely not. ... [But] we demand that we get the same hand-checks, that we get the same cheap calls that go against us."

    While Sacramento's bench outscored Detroit's reserves 42-17 in Game 3, the Monarchs' defensive rotations and pressure held Swin Cash to eight points and limited star forward Cheryl Ford to 11 ineffectual points and eight rebounds.

    Katie Smith, the WNBA veteran hoping for her first title with Detroit, managed just nine points and one rebound.

    "We were not mentally prepared today," Ford said. "If we were, wouldn't have had all those turnovers. The series is not over. We've just got to stay positive and stay focused."

    Walker scored 11 points and Griffith got eight in the final 2½ minutes of the first half as the Monarchs took a 44-33 halftime lead. Nolan carried Detroit, scoring 16 of those 33 points while her teammates got several tongue-lashings from Laimbeer -- "Who do you think you are?" he shouted during one timeout -- but the deficit steadily grew in the second half.

    Sacramento struggled at times during the regular season of its first title defense but hit the playoffs on a remarkable roll, winning all four of their Western Conference playoff games.

    The Monarchs then easily won Game 1 in Detroit and took a lead into the fourth quarter of Game 2, edging close to a postseason of perfection -- but Nolan and Smith rallied the Shock to a 10-point win that tied the series.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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    Team Stat Comparison

      Tulsa Sacramento
    Points 69 89
    FG Made-Attempted 24-53 (.000) 32-66 (.000)
    3P Made-Attempted 0-5 (.000) 6-10 (.600)
    FT Made-Attempted 21-32 (.000) 19-28 (.000)
    Rebounds (Offensive-Total) 8-30 10-27
    Assists 14 16
    Turnovers 23 5
    Steals 5 11
    Blocks 2 0
    Fast Break Points 9 14
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 28 (0/0) 23 (0/0)