<
>

Charlotte now has won 19 of past 24 games

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Now the Charlotte Sting have saved the postseason, too.

Overcoming a 1-10 regular-season start to make the playoffs,
Charlotte extended its postseason on Monday night with a 72-64
victory over the Cleveland Rockers to advance to the WNBA's Eastern
Conference finals.

And in Sting style, Charlotte completed another turnaround to
get there.

After being dominated on the boards in an 18-point defeat in Game
2, the Sting outrebounded the Rockers 35-19 in the decisive game of
the best-of-three conference semifinals.

"We've made adjustments and improved all season," Charlotte
coach Anne Donovan said. "I'm so proud of the way we've come
back."

When the final horn sounded, Charlotte's players hugged in a
group as the Rockers and most of the 12,527 fans who rocked Gund
Arena, stared in disbelief.

"Let's get out of here," Charlotte's Dawn Staley yelled to her
teammates as if the Sting had just stolen the series and needed to
make a getaway.

But the Sting showed more poise and leadership than the young
Rockers, who were outmuscled on both ends.

Reserve Tonya Edwards scored 15 points, Andrea Stinson had 14,
and rookie Tammy Sutton-Brown and Shalonda Enis added 12 apiece for
the Sting.

Charlotte's season was headed for disaster after it dropped to
1-10 after a defeat against Sacramento on June 24. But the Sting have gone
19-5 since, and the reversal can be traced to Sutton-Brown's
insertion into the starting lineup.

"It's not a coincidence," Donovan said. "Tammy brings a
presence in the low post and that frees up our perimeter. She's
such an integral part of our game, of our turnaround."

The Sting built a 13-point lead in the second half and held off
the Rockers, whose season ended with just their third loss in 18
home games this season.

Charlotte's bench outscored Cleveland's 31-14, and the Sting
outscored the Rockers 44-24 inside.

Merlakia Jones led Cleveland with 13 points, but the Rockers
couldn't get the big rebound or defensive stop in the final two
minutes and watched their season end for the third time in four
years in the postseason.

"It's heartbreaking," Jones said. "But we've been through
this before and we'll come back and try again."

The Sting will face the winner of the Miami-New York semifinal
series in the conference finals. The Sol and Liberty, tied 1-1,
will play Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

"This is not a temporary thing," Donovan said. "This is a
team to be reckoned with -- a very serious team."

Staley added nine points and eight assists for the Sting and
Sutton-Brown made all six of her shots from the field.

Cleveland, which held opponents to a league-record 55.9 points
a game during the regular season, couldn't stop Charlotte's
inside game in the second half.

Sutton-Brown scored underneath to start the half as Charlotte
dumped the ball down low with ease and scored their first six
baskets after halftime on layups.

Charlotte, which opened the half by making 10 of 12 shots, then
used 3-pointers from Allison Feaster and Enis to cap a 15-2 run
that gave them a 56-43 lead with 12:23 remaining.

But the Rockers weren't finished and finally started clogging
passing lanes and denying the ball like they had all season.

They responded with a 14-4 run to close to 60-57 when Jones
made a steal and layup with 8:05 left.

But the Sting got a running one-hander from Edwards as the shot
clock expired and Enis scored on a putback and was fouled. Her free
throw made it 65-59 with 4:17 to play.

The Rockers closed to 68-64 on Rushia Brown's jumper, but
following a Charlotte miss, Brown missed an open look from the foul
line and Staley's two free throws made it 70-64.

Penny Taylor missed a 3-pointer for Cleveland and Stinson's
layup with 12 seconds left finally put the Rockers away.

"We just didn't get that final box out and get control of the
ball," Jones said. "But I'm not holding my head down and I'm
telling my teammates not to hold their's down."