Sun, Storm set to face off in WNBA Finals

Posted: Friday, October 08, 2004

Four-time WNBA champion Houston didn't make it to the postseason. Los Angeles, which won it all twice, was eliminated in the first round. The fresh faces of the Sun and Storm are a good sign for the 8-year-old league, Sales said.

''That's telling a lot about the league and how the competition is spread around a lot more,'' Sales said Thursday. ''Instead of one player on each team that's really, really good you have two or three franchise players on each team. A lot of people picked us to finish last.''

Sales is one of two original members of the Orlando Miracle, who moved to Connecticut last season. She has been averaging 12 points and 5 steals in the Sun's run through the playoffs.

After dropping the opener of the first round at Washington, Connecticut won four straight -- including a sweep of the New York Liberty in the conference finals. The best-of-three championship series begins Friday night at the Mohegan Sun casino.

It will be the Sun's only finals appearance in a state accustomed to winning women's basketball championships and the expected sellout crowd will include Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

''I can't wait to stand up and cheer them on and let them know how proud we are,'' Rell told The Associated Press.

Rookie guard Lindsay Whalen is averaging 15.4 points in the postseason for the Sun, an increase of 6.5 points from the regular season.

Sun reserve guard Debbie Black has been playing professional ball for 15 years and wondered if she'd ever make it to a title game.

''I'm 38 years old. This is a dream come true,'' she said.

Center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the other original Miracle, averaged 16 points and 9.5 rebounds in the East finals. She and Sales have provided coach Mike Thibault's squad some much-needed veteran leadership on a team that began the season with five rookies and two offseason acquisitions.

''Both teams are here because they have enough leaders somewhere along the way to get here,'' Thibault said. ''To get this far, you weren't a rudderless ship.''

The Storm's Bird and Lauren Jackson, last season's league MVP, have emerged as the leaders for Seattle coach Ann Donovan. It's their toughness that impresses her the most.

''I wouldn't have said that last year,'' Donovan said. ''Sue and Lauren really believe it now. They know they can lead us to carrying that trophy.''

A day after surgery to repair a broken nose, Bird scored 10 points and had a playoff-record 14 assists in Seattle's 82-62 Western Conference final win over Sacremento.

The 6-foot-5 Jackson is averaging 22.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in the playoffs and is shooting 76 percent from the 3-point line.

''I don't know how you stop someone from posting up and at the same time have to guard them on the 3-point line,'' Bird said. ''She's a nightmare.''

Donovan coached the Charlotte Sting to the finals in 2001 where they were beaten by Los Angeles. The three-time Olympian is drawing on that experience.

''She just gives me a whole lot of confidence to go out there and have fun,'' Jackson said. ''She's got so much knowledge of the game and she's been there before.''

The teams have split their two regular-season games, each winning on their home court. Seattle barely had time to celebrate their conference final. After Tuesday's win, they flew to Connecticut early Wednesday. The Sun wrapped up their conference title on Sunday and are well-rested.

''We're loose, we're focused, we're having fun,'' McWilliams-Franklin said. ''This is the fun part. We've worked really hard to get to the finals to blow it by being really tight for the game.''



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