Silver Stars Advance to West Finals

San Antonio 80, Sacramento 78

SAN ANTONIO, Aug. 27 (AP) -- Vickie Johnson and Becky Hammon were teammates for seven seasons in New York. Their first season together in San Antonio has lifted the Silver Stars a step closer to their first WNBA Finals.

Johnson scored an easy layup on a pass from Hammon with half a second remaining and the Silver Stars beat the Sacramento Monarchs 80-78 to win their Western Conference playoff series Monday night.

"We either wanted to take the last shot or go into overtime,'' Hammon said of the winning play that started on an inbounds pass with 24 seconds remaining and the score tied at 78.

"Luckily, I found my good friend Vickie Johnson.''

Johnson signed as a free agent last season after nine years with the New York Liberty. Hammon left the Liberty after a draft-day trade this year.

Although Sacramento overcame a 20-point deficit and took a lead with just more than a minute remaining in the game, San Antonio won the best-of-3 series behind a franchise playoff-record 26 points from Sophia Young.

Hammon added 22 points and seven assists while Johnson scored 14 and also had seven assists.

Nicole Powell led the comeback with 10 fourth-quarter points. She led the Monarchs with 20 points.

Kara Lawson added 12, while Rebekkah Brunson and Yolanda Griffith each scored 10.

Brunson missed the last shot when she attempted to redirect an inbounds pass from Powell.

The Silver Stars will play the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday in the Western Conference finals. It's a best-of-3 series that will begin in San Antonio before moving to Phoenix for a second and, if necessary, third game.

The Mercury swept Seattle in the first round and had a 3-1 edge over San Antonio during the regular season.

With the Monarchs ahead by one, Hammon hit a 3-pointer with 35 seconds remaining to give the Silver Stars a 78-76 lead. Hammon had missed a layup before Ruth Riley grabbed a long rebound and fired a pass back over to Hammon in the right corner.

Sacramento tied the game again when Lawson grabbed a rebound on Powell's missed 3-pointer with 24 seconds to go.

The game-winner came when Hammon drove to the lane and fired a pass to Johnson, who was underneath the basket by herself when Powell came up to confront Hammon.

"It wasn't designed for me,'' Johnson said. "I just kept moving. It was just a great play. I cut through and just moved back in. I saw where Powell went to help on Becky, and Becky hit me for the layup.''

It was a tough way for Powell to end the game after leading the comeback.

"It's not a decision that any basketball player wants to be in, to see Becky Hammon coming at the hoop and have a shooter like Vickie Johnson who always makes big plays,'' Powell said. "Obviously it wasn't the right decision. I could have made the fake and gone back.''

The defeat ended the Monarchs' string of two straight appearances in the WNBA Finals. Sacramento won the championship in 2005 and fell to Detroit in five games last year.

San Antonio led by 20 points late in the first half after hitting 7-of-11 3-pointers. But the Monarchs rallied when Powell hit several key baskets.

Powell cut the lead to 66-60 when she hit a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 8:02 left in the game.

Powell's short jumper cut it to four with 6:16 to go. And with 4:24 left she knocked down another 3-pointer to cut the San Antonio lead to two points.

The lead was chopped to one point when Lawson hit a 3-pointer with 3:39 remaining.

Hammon answered with a 3-pointer 18 seconds later to put San Antonio ahead 75-71.

The Monarchs went ahead 76-75 with 1:08 left in the game when Lawson made a driving layup past Riley.

It's the Silver Stars' second trip to the conference finals. The other came in 2002 when the franchise was in Utah, and the team lost 2-0 to Los Angeles.

San Antonio led 27-21 after the first quarter when they shot 60 percent from the floor, including 5-of-7 3-pointers.

That tied the WNBA mark for 3-pointers in one quarter set by Seattle last year against Los Angeles.

The Silver Stars expanded the lead to 20 with 1:46 remaining before halftime. The surge was led by Young, who shot 4-of-5 from the floor while the rest of the Silver Stars went 4-of-14 during the second quarter.

Young finished the first half with 17 points and five rebounds while Johnson had 12 points and five assists.

After trailing by 20, Sacramento scored seven straight points to finish the first half.

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