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Monarchs take 2-1 lead over Sun in WNBA Finals

Posted: Monday, September 19, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — When the Sacramento Monarchs seemed ready to lose their lead and their heads in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals, Yolanda Griffith slid into her coach's chair during a timeout.

Whatever instructions or encouragement she barked at her teammates, they worked — mostly because Griffith motivated herself to another big game.

Griffith had 19 points and 11 rebounds with relentless inside play, and the Monarchs moved to the brink of their first championship Sunday with a 66-55 victory over the Connecticut Sun.

After being named to the All-WNBA team earlier in the day, Griffith played with the relentless energy that's driven her through seven seasons. She dominated the paint with five offensive rebounds and nonstop defensive energy, and her final basket with 3:24 left stalled the Sun's last-gasp rally.

Kara Lawson scored 16 points and hit six free throws in the final minute for the Monarchs, and Nicole Powell tied a WNBA Finals record with four 3-pointers. But Griffith was the difference — and even after putting the Monarchs up 2-1 in the best-of-five series, she was still smoldering.

''Even though we're home, (and) I know their backs are against the wall right now, even though we're up (2-1), I should be happy. Am I? I don't know,'' Griffith said. ''I mean, I'm just not satisfied, because I know we can play better ball. Tuesday, I hope it's the game. We're waiting for everybody to step up and bring it.''

Game 4 is Tuesday night at Arco Arena, where the Monarchs hope to wrap up the best season in franchise history with a title. DeMya Walker proclaimed as much to the crowd afterward, screaming: ''We need one more!''

Griffith's teammates largely struggled on offense with 17-of-52 shooting, but the Monarchs made just seven turnovers and survived the Sun's final rally with their signature defense, which frustrated Connecticut into 16 turnovers and an afternoon of terrible shooting.

The Sun might be running out of energy and healthy players, but they still believe they're capable of winning a series that's been close in the final minutes of all three games.

''I guess I'm not much of a prognosticator, because I thought we would play our best game of the series today, and we played our worst,'' said Connecticut coach Mike Thibault, who wrote a series of unflattering statistics on the locker room chalkboard after the game. ''They're disruptive (defensively), but by this point in the series, we should be able to better handle it.''

The Monarchs opened the second half with a 15-5 run including eight points from Griffith, and they led 50-36 with 11 1/2 minutes to play. Connecticut rallied with 12 consecutive points in four minutes, capped by Ashja Jones' jumper to cut the Monarchs' lead to 55-53 with 4:18 left.

But Griffith snapped her club's five-minute scoreless skid with a layup, and Sacramento finished on a 9-0 run while Connecticut couldn't score in the final 3 minutes, 16 seconds.

''Mistakes, turnovers, that's part of what our defensive intention is,'' Sacramento coach John Whisenant said. ''We make their shots harder, eliminate their assists. That's all part of being alert and intense. Our goal in everything we do is built around our defense, our whole game from start to finish.''

Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Sun, but went scoreless in the final 7:18. Nykesha Sales scored 17 points after a slow start, but the Connecticut stars' teammates managed just eight field goals.

Lindsay Whalen, who sat out Game 2 for Connecticut with a sprained ankle and a leg injury, scored two points and made five turnovers in 22 ineffective minutes. She sat out down the stretch, and her absence hurt when backup Jamie Carey missed an open fast-break layup with 1:49 to play.

''It's not about basketball, it's about concentration and mental things,'' said Katie Douglas, who had just six points on 2-of-7 shooting. ''We're killing ourselves in areas, and we're going to have to fix that.''

Sacramento stole homecourt advantage in the series with a 69-65 victory in Game 1. The Monarchs then had a three-point lead in the closing seconds of regulation in Game 2 — but Brooke Wyckoff hit a 3-pointer to tie it, and the stunned Monarchs were shut out in overtime of a 77-70 loss.



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