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Penicheiro's playground approach pays off

THE PLAYOFF DISH

By Mechelle Voepel, Special to ESPN.com

Ticha Penicheiro After scoring three points in Game 1 and none in Game 2, Ticha Penicheiro had seven Sunday. (Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Last Friday, no one in the Sacramento locker room was more disappointed in herself than Ticha Penicheiro. The Detroit Shock had tried to blanket everyone else, willing to leave Penicheiro wide-open. And that
worked, as she had an 0-of-8 night from the field.

Plus, the Monarchs' dish queen had just two assists in the Game 2 loss. Penicheiro felt she'd seriously let her team down, and she resolved she'd make up for it Sunday.

Now, you know with Penicheiro, that's not going to mean she was intent on racking up points. It meant she was going to find some way to contribute on offense and make Detroit have to worry about her a little.

That's what she did. Penicheiro hit 3-of-6 shots and a free throw, finishing with seven points, two assists and just one turnover in the Monarchs' 89-69 Game 3 victory.

"It was a bad shooting night [Friday] and I'm not a true shooter, per se, so you kind of lose your confidence," Penicheiro said. "Today, I was like, 'No matter what happens, if I miss my first, second, third … I have to stay up.' If I don't perform well, if I'm not aggressive, it can affect the way we play.

"Today, I tried to play just like I was on the playground … don't worry about anything, just have fun. And it worked out good. I was aggressive, and I have to continue with that same state of mind."

Being as this is the Golden State's capital city, one of the best signs in Arco Arena on Sunday read, "Ticha for Governor." Hey, if a bodybuilder from Austria can do it, why not a hoops player from Portugal?

Penicheiro is loved here in Sacramento -- just as she was in college at Old Dominion -- in large part because her heart is always in the game. Penicheiro doesn't seem to make as many snazzy, no-look passes as she used to, but it's not because she has lost that skill. It's because she's going to do what's best to win the basketball game. She has figured out when the
sleight-of-hand is needed and when it isn't.

Also, Penicheiro really is Sacramento Monarchs basketball. She has been here the longest, since finishing at ODU in 1998. Her regular-season averages during now nine years in Sacramento are 6.4 points, 6.2 assists and
3.1 rebounds. She's a "glue" player -- someone who'll rarely be the star of the game but would be very much missed if she wasn't there. She has started all but three games in her WNBA career.

And as much as the spectators at Arco love Penicheiro, it's a feeling that is reciprocated.

"These fans support you no matter what," she said. "They patiently waited for a championship. They're faithful. When things were going bad with the franchise … I remember my first year, it was terrible [Sacramento was 8-22]. But those same people who were there then are still here today."

And so is Penicheiro, hoping she and the Monarchs can give them another title on Wednesday.

ESPN'S TAKE ON GAME 3

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Before this season, the WNBA Finals single-game record for turnovers was 18, set by Seattle in 2004.

In every game of this championship series, however, Detroit has turned over the ball at least 21 times, and that is perhaps the Shock's biggest problem in this series, which they now trail 2-1.

It's hard enough to get shots off against the Monarchs, but Detroit is putting itself at an even bigger disadvantage with 22.6 turnovers per game (68 total). Giving your opponent added possessions is not the way to win. On Sunday, Sacramento turned 23 Detroit turnovers into 22 points.

So, is Detroit's offense not taking good enough care of the ball or is Sacramento's defense causing all the problems? It's a combination, actually. For starters, the Monarchs' defense is very good at taking away options. That can make the opponent rush its passes and force the ball because they know they get so few opportunities.

Making matters worse for Detroit is the fact the Shock aren't playing with a lot of confidence. That means they're a split-second too slow in their decision of where they want to pass the ball. It seems that they see it, think about it, then throw it. But by the time the Shock finally deliver the pass, the option is no longer there. They're too apprehensive and not playing instinctive basketball.

For example, Cheryl Ford was held to 11 points Sunday and was the only Detroit post player in double figures. That's in part because the Shock did a poor job recognizing and creating their passing angles to the post. In some instances, they simply picked up their dribble, which allowed Sacramento's defenders to get a hand up and block the passing lane inside. But in other situations, when the Monarchs were denying the high side, Detroit's guards did a poor job of recognizing that they just needed to take another dribble baseline for a better angle.

And obviously, Sacramento's bench was incredible Sunday, combining for 42 points and 12 rebounds. That allowed starters such as Yolanda Griffith (18 minutes, eight fewer than her playoff average) and Ticha Penicheiro (19 minutes, 7½ fewer) to spend some time on the bench. They'll be fresh for Game 4, unlike Detroit's starters, who have logged some very heavy minutes.

So what can we expect in Game 4? Detroit is simply in trouble. I won't say it's impossible for the Shock to win the 2006 title, but right now, the only way I see them winning this series is if Sacramento lets down. That's not likely. The Monarchs are very poised veterans who are not taking anything for granted.

Deanna Nolan is doing everything she can to help her team, and Ford is doing the best she can. Sacramento has done a good job taking her away from the basket to limit Ford on the glass -- her average has dipped to 8.0 rebounds per game after 11.3 in the regular season and 13.0 in the East finals.

And at other times, Katie Smith has stepped up, too. But Detroit is not getting its key players to step up all at the same time. With players like Swin Cash remaining so inconsistent, Detroit has lost the team concept and is now relying on individual basketball.
-- ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman

POST DUO PAVES WAY FOR MONARCHS

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- You could say the stars realigned for Sacramento's Rebecca Brunson in the WNBA. She went to college at Georgetown -- a place where, certainly, she got a fine education but never played in an NCAA Tournament.

That made her less of a recognized figure in the senior class of 2004, loaded as it was by stars such as Diana Taurasi, Alana Beard, Nicole Powell, Lindsay Whalen, Shameka Christon, Nicole Ohlde, Vanessa Hayden, Chandi Jones and Ebony Hoffman.

All of them were taken in the 2004 draft ahead of No. 10 pick Brunson; all except Brunson and Hoffman made at least one NCAA Tournament appearance in their careers. Taurasi, in fact, did pretty well in that thing.

And Taurasi could have told you, having played in the Big East, that Brunson was likely to blossom in the pro league. But Brunson's situation has turned out even better than any young post player might hope for. She already has one WNBA championship ring and hopes for another as the Monarchs face the Detroit Shock in the league finals, which continue Wednesday in Game 4 (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).

Plus, she gets to learn from two crafty, talented post players who have been pivotal performers for Sacramento: Yolanda Griffith and DeMya Walker.

"They work with us younger players," Brunson said. "Yo is one of the veterans in the league who really takes young players under her wing and tries to teach them as much as possible.

"DeMya is just like Yo, trying to do what she can to help. I think she's still learning herself; every year she gets a little better. She's not going to be as vocal as Yo, but she's going to show you how it's done with her actions."

Perhaps Brunson really meant that Walker isn't vocal the same way as Griffith. They both have plenty to say, but tend to get their messages across in different ways.

"Yo is the tell-you-like-it-is type," Walker said. "Sometimes it might hurt your feelings or you don't really know, 'Is she serious?' And I'm kind of the one who runs back behind that to calm you down and make you see it a little clearer.

"Yo is just more, 'Get it done; this is what we need to do.' I'm telling them, 'You know she was telling you that because this needs to happen.'"

Just as Griffith and Walker work well with a youngster such as Brunson, they also have figured out how to work well together. And good basketball teams must have that: post duos who really know and understand each other.

"It's extremely important," Walker said. "Part of that is just our ability to communicate with each other. Yo can yell at me and I can yell at her, and we know exactly what each other really meant.

"She knows I'm going to get it done, whatever she asked me to do. And I can say, 'You know what I need you to do?' And she'll be like, 'Yeah.' I think that's how our young players learn -- they realize you can communicate any way you need to. We've built that on-court relationship. If we can talk, we can make adjustments." More …
-- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel


NOTABLE NUMBER

0 Everybody knows the Monarchs have the best depth in the WNBA, and Sunday was no different. All but one player on Sacramento's roster played, and of those 11, 10 scored.

The surprising thing, however, was who blanked -- Kara Lawson. The 5-foot-10 guard has been one of the Monarchs' most consistent weapons in the playoffs, where she was averaging 14.5 points per game -- which is six more than her regular-season average -- prior to Sunday and shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc. She had been even better in the finals, averaging 16.5 ppg in the first two contests, including 22 points in Game 1.

But on Sunday, Lawson went 0-for-5 from the field, including an 0-of-2 performance from 3-point range, in just more than 26 minutes. Who would have thought the Monarchs would win running away without a single point from Lawson?

HISTORY HAS A WAY OF …

In the 2005 finals, Sacramento won the first game and then looked likely to have a win in the second … but lost Game 2 in overtime after Connecticut's Brooke Wyckoff hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer in regulation.

Sacramento's DeMya Walker took responsibility for not covering Wyckoff on that shot. Then she and the Monarchs bounced back and won the next two games in Sacramento.

Could the Monarchs have a repeat of that this year? They won Game 1, let Game 2 get away with cold offense and lackadaisical defense, then came back to dominate Game 3.

Just like last year, the Monarchs don't want to be taking another plane ride in the finals. They want to end it at home Wednesday.

"I think we could draw off that experience last year," Walker said. "We knew we had to have a short memory about Game 2 last year, especially me because I made a crucial mistake.

"But in drawing off that experience, we also know that in [Game 4], if Nykesha [Sales] hits that 3, we're going to overtime and battling again for five more minutes. So we're drawing off that, too … the game is never over until the buzzer sounds, and the series isn't over until you're up 3-1."

The sequence Walker referred to was Connecticut's Sales missing a closely guarded 3-pointer last year, and then Sacramento inbounding the ball and clinching the title.
-- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel