HOUSTON, August 17, 2006 (Ticker) -- The Sacramento Monarchs began their title defense with a royal whooping.

Kara Lawson scored 18 points and Yolanda Griffith added 16 as the Monarchs dominated the first half en route to a 93-78 victory over the Houston Comets in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series.

DeMya Walker contributed 15 and Ticha Penicheiro 10 and eight assists for second-seeded Sacramento, which can eliminate third-seeded Houston with a home victory Saturday.

"Obviously, I'm happy with the result," Monarchs coach John Whisenant said. "I thought our defense in the first half was outstanding. We caught them a little off-guard and after we got them a little off-sync, they had trouble getting back in their rhythm.

"As always has been the case with our system, our defense generates our offense. I thought that happened for us tonight. We feel fortunate to get out of here with a victory."

The Monarchs took charge from the opening tip-off, scoring 12 of the first 16 points and holding a 26-12 advantage after one quarter. Walker made all four of her shots in the session en route to nine points.

The second quarter was much of the same as Sacramento outscored Houston, 32-18, behind eight points from Griffith and seven from Lawson.

Backed by a pair of 12-0 runs in the first half, the Monarchs held a 58-30 lead at intermission. They shot nearly 63 percent (22-of-35) and led by as many as 31 points in the first half.

"They made shots. They made unbelievable shots actually," Comets forward Tina Thompson said. "The fact they shot so well - I think they shot over 80 percent in the first quarter - and that's a little over the top. I think when you give them the kind of cushion to make shots like that, it's tough to regroup from."

Houston, which lost three of its last four regular-season games, shot just 42 percent (23-of-54) in this one.

Michelle Snow scored 15 points and Roneeka Hodges and Thompson added 13 apiece for the Comets, who also committed 12 turnovers and were outrebounded, 32-27.