<
>

Monarchs strike first against Sun in WNBA Finals

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) -- It's taken Yolanda Griffith seven years
to reach the WNBA Finals, and her debut was a splashy one.

Yolanda Griffith No matter how many bodies surrounded her, nobody could stop Yolanda Griffith in the second half. (Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images)

Griffith scored 25 points and dominated inside as the Sacramento
Monarchs beat the Connecticut Sun 69-65 in the opener of the
best-of-five series. With her career winding down, the 35-year-old
forward knows this could be her last shot at the title.

"Nothing in life is guaranteed and I've been preaching that
from Day 1," Griffith said. "We're here this year but we can
finish last next year."

The Monarchs lost both regular-season meetings but used a strong
inside game, anchored by Griffith, and relentless defense to hand
Connecticut a rare home loss. The Sun, making their second straight
appearance in the finals, had lost only three games this season at
the Mohegan Sun arena coming in. Game 2 is Thursday night in
Connecticut.

The Monarchs outscored Connecticut 38-26 in the paint.
Griffith's 25 points are the fifth-highest single-game total in
WNBA Finals history.

"She's got that will right now to go and try to win a
championship like everybody else and you can see how possessed she
is at playing," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said.

The home crowd got into it early when Lindsay Whalen was
announced for the starting lineup for Connecticut. The star point
guard broke a bone in her left knee during the Eastern Conference
finals on Saturday and was questionable for this series. The 8,200
fans erupted when Whalen ran onto the floor through bright orange
jets of fire.

However, Griffith had the strong shooting touch in the end. The
league's leading offensive rebounder, Griffith shot 11-for-17,
mostly on inside and second-chance buckets, and finished with a
team-high nine boards. The Monarchs' defensive pressure forced the
Sun into 15 turnovers.

Matched up most of the game against Connecticut's 7-foot-2
center Margo Dydek, Griffith time and again shot over Dydek's long
reach or beat her on the baseline.

"She's like a wall," Griffith said of Dydek. "She sits right
there in the paint, so when you get a jump shot, you've got to have
confidence and knock the shot down."

Nykesha Sales led the Sun with 23 points. Her 3-pointer with
1:26 left in the game pulled Connecticut to within three at 66-63.
The Sun had a chance to tie it on their next possession but Whalen
missed a wide-open 3 from the right wing and the Monarchs hit
3-of-4 from the line to ice the game.

Nicole Powell, who won the league's most improved player award,
finished with 10 points that included a pair of 3s.

Katie Douglas scored 14 points for Connecticut, Taj
McWilliams-Franklin had 10 rebounds and Dydek finished with four
blocks.
Whalen handled the Monarchs constant pressure and played 25

minutes without a turnover. She finished with seven points.

"Gutsy, very gutsy," Monarchs coach John Whisenant said. "She
played hard and determined. We intended to give Lindsay fits,
whether she had a knee [injury] not."

Whalen played with a brace on the knee and admitted to some
discomfort, but not enough to sideline her.

"I'm trying to get used to playing with it. And not playing
four days, I kind of got out of rhythm a little bit," Whalen said.

Sales had 12 points in the first half and the Sun led by as many
as seven points in the period. But Sacramento quickly closed the
gap with an 8-2 run in the closing minutes. Griffith's layup with
4:17 left pulled the Monarchs to within one at 26-25.

Whalen then intercepted Ticha Penicheiro's pass in the paint to
kick off a fastbreak and found Douglas on the wing, who nailed a
3-pointer to give the Sun a 31-27 lead at the break.

But the Monarchs turned up the defensive pressure in the second
half and the Sun played disjointed in stretches.

"I think we lost our composure," Douglas said. "Their
defensive intensity is tremendous the entire 40 minutes. They never
really relax. It's something that we're going to face the rest of
the series, so we better get used to it."