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Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

WNBA Finals: Monarchs Stun Shock in Opener

By Mel Greenberg

_ The Sacramento Monarchs stormed into the Detroit Shock’s Palace Wednesday night and dispatched coach Bill Laimbeer’s team in a lop-sided royal flush, 95-71, to easily capture the WNBA championship series opener.

Near the city associated with Motown music, the two teams spun a few records, most of which were helped by the defending WNBA champions’ ability to quickly erase home-court disadvantage for the second straight season.

This one was decided much quicker by the Monarchs then last season’s 69-65 triumph over the Connecticut Sun in Uncasville.

Holding a competitive 26-20 advantage at the end of the first quarter, Sacramento blitzed its way to a 53-38 halftime lead and went on to increase the margin by as many 24 points during the final 20 minutes of action.

“It’s a little disappointing to watch us not perform out there,” Laimbeer bemoaned his team’s lack of effort only three days after the Shock had been on the high end of a one-sided encounter that saw the Shock rout Connecticut to take their first Eastern Conference crown since 2003.

“Twenty-four turnovers,” Laimbeer continued about his team’s pile of mistakes that went beyond taking care of the basketball. “You can’t win a basketball game in the WNBA finals making 24 turnovers.”

A glance at the Shock scoring might indicate a decent night on offense with Cheryl Ford scoring 25 points, Katie Smith collecting 21, and Deana Nolan contributing 14.

But that was easily overcome with Kara Lawson’s 22 points, Nicole Powell’s 21, and 17 points each from Yolanda Griffith and DeMya Walker.

Powell, a former Stanford star, and Kara Lawson, who starred at Tennessee, were exceptionally deadly on the perimeter with Powell connecting on 4 of 7 three-point attempts, and Lawson firing 6 of 8.

The Monarchs set a team scoring record in the finals and Ford’s total was an individual mark for finals competition. Lawson’s treys set a finals record of four set, breaking the previous mark of three by many players and Smith’s four treys in the first half set a mark that was previously held by many players at three.

The combined 166 points eclipsed a finals production of 161 when the Shock beat the Los Angeles Sparks, 83-78 during the 2003 finals, which was then a best-of-three affair.

The Shock and Monarchs combo offense also produced 91 points in the first half, erasing the 79 scored in that same 2003 game on Sept. 16.

The attendance here was announced at 9.581, far less than the 17,000 plus and 22,000 plus totals that jammed the Palace in 2003 when Detroit rallied from a first-game setback in Los Angeles to complete a worst-to-first turnaround over two seasons.

Also missing Wednesday night in almost everything except her uniform was former University of Connecticut star Swin Cash, who on Sunday matched Smith’s 16 points in beating the Sun.

Cash, the star of the 2003 season for the Shock, went scoreless Wednesday night with an 0-for-2 effort from the field in just 11 minutes, 16 seconds of action.

When a reporter in the postgame press conference mentioned Cash not being a factor in the second quarter, Laimbeer quickly interrupted, “Wasn’t a factor in the first quarter on, either.

“She showed up to play a basketball game, she didn’t show up to win a basketball game. It’s just one of those things where she wasn’t into it and we decided not to play her.”

Cash, in the Shock lockerroom, claimed Laimbeer had told her during the first half of one of the reasons she was benched and she said she was letting him know, “that it wasn’t my missed assignment.”

The Pittsburgh native said the benching was the first she had experienced in her career but added, “I’m a professional. I come to work every single day, whether I’m on the court or on the bench. On the bench I trust my teammates on the court and do what I can do to help my team win.”

Sacramento coach John Whisenant was obviously pleased to steal another finals opener.

“I’m tickled to death that we got home court from the Shock, but that’s only one game, and we’ve got to win some more, somewhere. Our goal was to win a game here, and we don’t want to quit at one, and we know Friday will be a war. They will come with us with all their ammo.”

The Monarchs have been firing away with five straight playoff wins without a loss since struggling down the stretch of the regular season. They opened defense of their Western Conference crown with a sweep of Houston and then swept the Sparks with the second game in that series occurring in Anaheim, Calf., which was Los Angeles’ home court for that particular game.

Powell spoke of the way her team has been on fire since the playoffs got under way.

“All of a sudden we got out there against Houston on their home court and it was just unbelievable . We just took off. We were up by 20 or 30 points in the first half, and it was kind of the same thing (as Wednesday night) where every single person was ready to play, ready to fight.”

Smith concurred on Sacramento’s energy and what her team must do Friday to avoid going down 0-2 in the series before it heads West Sunday for Game 3. A fourth game would be played next Wednesday and if the series goes the distance, it would return to the area, but at the Joe Louis Arena downtown due to a prevous event scheduled at the Palace.

“One thing they bring every night is effort and energy,” Smith said of the Monarchs. “You know, they stole this one, but you know, it’s a series and we’ll get right back on Friday night.”

Detroit couldn’t do anything right, according to Laimbeer.

“Everything we talked about before the start of the game, almost to the exact thing, there’s probably at least ten things that we listed that we had to take care of and work on in this ball game, and eight of them, we didn’t do it,” the former NBA Detroit Pistons star of the “Bad Boys” championship era said.

“That’s just effort. That’s just desire. That’s wanting it more than the other team, or even wanting it as bad as the other team. Tonight we didn’t compete on the level that we needed to, and we got stomped. We won’t make many excuses. We have none.”

In 2003, Detroit lost a similar lop-sided encounter against Los Angeles, but Laimbeer afterwards was quite confident his team could rally with two wins at home.

Now, the dynamic is a bit different.

“In a five game series, you’re able to lose one game and still have an opportunity to recover,” Laimbeer explained. “In a three-game series, it wasn’t so great.

“Before we win three games, we have to win one, and that’s our focus. You have to win one game first. And I told (his players) that this was going to be the hardest game because the visiting team focuses so hard on winning the first game,” he continued.

“They are closeted up in the hotel. There’s no distractions. They know their task. They have to win one game and they came very focused and ready to play,” Laimbeer added.

“We have to come with the same energy in Game 2. We have to win Game 2 or we’re in a world of trouble.”

-- Mel


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