Western Conference First Round

Houston Comets vs. Sacramento Monarchs Playoff Schedule
Game OneFriday, August 29Houston at Sacramento9:00 p.m.NBA TVARCO Arena
Game TwoSunday, August 31Sacramento at Houston3:30 p.m.ESPN2Buy Tickets!
Game Three*Tuesday, September 2Sacramento at Houston8:00 p.m.Oxygen*If Necessary



A New Beginning

"The playoffs are an entirely new season." Whoever coined this old cliché must have had the Houston Comets in mind.

The Comets closed out the regular season with losses in five of their last six contests, including their first three-game losing streak in franchise history. While several teams would be pushing the panic button, the veteran Comets realize that many teams would also love to be in their shoes, holding the No.2 seed and home court advantage in the first round.

Houston squares off against the No. 3 seed Sacramento Monarchs in a best-of-three playoff series that begins Friday night at ARCO Arena. Sacramento is playing red-hot basketball, but the Comets took the season series three games to one.

Clean Slate
As Houston enters the 2003 WNBA Playoffs the slate is now clean. If the Comets plan on having any postseason success, they must forget about all the ups and downs of the regular season and come out Friday focused on defeating the Monarchs.

Tina Thompson led the Comets with 19.0 points against the Monarchs during the regular season.
Bill Baptist/WNBAE/Getty Images
Similar to last season, the Comets face a very tough opponent in the first round of the playoffs. After making a midseason coaching change with a 7-11 mark, Sacramento has been one of the hottest teams in the league. The Monarchs managed to turn their season around, finishing 12-4 under Interim head coach John Whisenant, who entered the coaching ranks after serving in the front office. Houston, which pinned two of those four losses on Whisenant’s team, lost its final meeting with Sacramento, 62-54, last Thursday.

The Comets last faced the Monarchs in the postseason during the 2000 WNBA Playoffs. Houston quickly disposed of Sacramento in two games and went on to claim a fourth consecutive WNBA championship. Ever since winning their fourth title, the Comets have been ousted in the first round of the playoffs.

This year’s playoff run may be viewed as a totally new season for the Comets, but the same old crew will need to lead the way. Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson will have to shoulder the load and carry this team if Houston has dreams of a title this season. Janeth Arcain will have to come through with her timely shooting, and Michelle Snow will have to be consistent in the scoring column and on the boards. In other words, the Comets will need to be clicking on all cylinders to come out of the tough Western Conference.

Sacramento is a team led by the play of its tall and talented frontcourt players, especially Yolanda Griffith and Tangela Smith. Griffith, who is a former league MVP, is the leading scorer and rebounder for Sacramento. The 6-4 All-Star averages 13.8 points and 7.3 boards per game. Griffith takes high percentage shots and plays well within the flow of the offense. Smith is a 6-4 forward who has the versatility to play down low, as well as extend her game to the perimeter. The Monarchs' second leading scorer averaged 13.0 points against the Comets this season, but could easily explode for more on any given night.

DeMya Walker is the third member of the Sacramento frontcourt. Walker has been a nice addition to the Monarchs squad coming over from the defunct Portland Fire in the 2003 dispersal draft. The Monarchs forward is a nice complement to Griffith and Smith, and is also a major factor on the offensive end.

Guard play will be critical to both teams in this series. The Comets also rely heavily on their frontcourt but have much better success when Arcain and point guard Ukari Figgs are playing well. Arcain only attempted four shots and was rather quiet in the Comets season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Sparks. The 5-11 guard is the X-factor for Houston because when she plays well the Comets seem to come out on top.

Arcain will need to be more aggressive offensively and make the most of the shots she gets as the Comets third option. Sacramento will employ different strategies to knock Swoopes and Thompson out of their spots, so Arcain will need to ready to knock down the open shot.

The Monarchs will start Ticha Penicheiro and Edna Campbell in their backcourt. Penicheiro is a pass-first point guard who will look to get everyone involved and provide leadership for her Sacramento teammates. Although the 5-11 guard finished first in the WNBA in assists (6.7 per game), her 5.4 points per game scoring average is her lowest offensive output since entering the league in 1998. Like Penicheiro, Campbell is not a major scorer but she will demand attention on the perimeter. Rookie Kara Lawson and veteran Ruthie Bolton will get quality minutes off the bench for Sacramento at the guard position.

Comets coach Van Chancellor rountinely plays his starters heavy minutes and this playoff series should be no different. The Comets have the league's lowest-scoring bench, mainly because only Tiffani Johnson and Dominique Canty are in the regular rotation. What this means for the Comets is that their stars will have the responsibility of carrying the team each night.

Look To The Stars
The interior play of Michelle Snow will be crucial to the Comets in this series.
Bill Baptist/WNBAE/Getty Images
Houston’s offense went awry too often in the regular season but stellar defensive play saved the team on many occasions. If Swoopes, Thompson and Arcain can combine for 50 points in any game in the playoffs, the Comets should be in good shape to secure a victory. If one of those three stars is struggling, however, Houston is indeed vulnerable to another first round exit.

Look for Snow to be a pleasant surprise and come up big this postseason. Snow held MVP-candidate Lisa Leslie to eight points in the season finale. The 6-5 center was also more active on the offensive end, finishing with 10 points. Snow set the franchise record for rebounds (263) this season and was one of the most improved players in the league. Snow’s rebounding will be key against Sacramento with three 6-4 Monarchs down low. The Comets center always shows the intensity, but is inconsistent from time to time. If Snow can play that way against Leslie, then she can play that way against Griffith and anyone else.

Fans should look forward to an exciting series against the Monarchs. Game 1 will be rather important because the loser will be facing elimination in Game 2. The Comets and Monarchs are excellent home teams, so this one could easily go the full three games. However, if Sacramento stumbles at home in Game 1, the Comets should be able to capitalize back in Houston.

--Trevor Mitchell, houstoncomets.com


POINTS: Thompson - 19.0
REBOUNDS: Snow - 7.5
ASSISTS: Swoopes - 4.3
STEALS: Swoopes - 3.33
BLOCKS: Snow - 1.25
MINUTES: Arcain - 34.8

POINTS: Smith - 13.0
REBOUNDS: Griffith - 5.8
ASSISTS: Penicheiro - 5.5
STEALS: Griffith - 2.25
BLOCKS: Smith - 1.00
MINUTES: Griffith - 30.5