SAN ANTONIO, Sept. 28 (AP) -- When he became coach of the San Antonio Silver Stars and directed a team that won seven games his first year, Dan Hughes didn't have far to look for the role model to build a championship team.
"My role was right outside my back door,'' Hughes said. "You had the Spurs sitting here. And the things they represented just reinforced me that even when we won seven games, you know what, keep going, keep going, keep going.''
Just as the Spurs played for a championship not long after Tim Duncan joined the team, the Silver Stars' fortunes changed when Becky Hammon came on board.
Hammon scored 35 points, making four free throws in the final 36 seconds, and the Silver Stars advanced to their first WNBA finals with a 76-72 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.
"We were lucky to get people, and now I've got people anybody could coach,'' Hughes said.
Hammon is at the top of the list. In her second year playing with the Silver Stars after a draft-day trade with New York, Hammon topped her 32-point performance from last year's playoffs.
The Sparks led 72-67 when Temeka Johnson made two free throws with 1:57 left in the game, but Hammon tied it on a 3-pointer with 1:03 left.
Hammon was 10-of-18 from the field, including 6-of-8 from 3-point range, and made all nine foul shots.
"I just try to go up there and knock them down,'' Hammon said. "It's just repetition. It's for those moments you work so hard as a player.''
After Hammon's 3-pointer, Los Angeles lost the ball the next trip down the floor when DeLisha Milton-Jones, who joined Candace Parker to lead Los Angeles with 16 points, was called for an offensive foul.
Hammon followed with four free throws on the next two possessions to put away the game.
"We come back when things seem impossible,'' Hammon said.
The Silver Stars forced Game 3 when Sophia Young hit a turnaround 14-foot jumper that banked off the board and the rim and fell in at the buzzer on Saturday.
The Sparks missed their final three shots from the floor on Sunday, going the final 2:16 without a basket.
"I thought our inability to hit key shots during the course of the game was key for us,'' Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "When we needed a basket, we couldn't get it.''
The best-of-five finals will start Wednesday in San Antonio. The opponent will be determined Monday when Detroit and New York play Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals in Ypsilanti, Mich. The Shock evened the series Sunday with a 64-55 victory.
Hammon, who played in New York from 1999-2006, has a feeling she will be playing her former team.
"I think New York might be coming out of the East,'' Hammon said. "I hope we do see them.''
The Silver Stars moved to San Antonio in 2003 after six seasons in Utah. San Antonio lost in the conference finals last year to eventual champion Phoenix.
With the Spurs ready to start their training camp in two days at their nearby practice facility, Spurs guard Tony Parker watched with his wife, Eva Longoria-Parker. They saw the Silver Stars rally from eight points behind early in the second half to take a one-point lead with less than a minute to go in the third quarter.
The Sparks took an eight-point lead with 3:39 remaining in the third quarter when Raffaella Masciadri scored on a drive and made a free throw after being fouled by Ruth Riley.
But Riley helped San Antonio scored eight straight during the next 2:01 to tie the game. She hit a 3-pointer and then hit a 14-foot jump shot to knot it with 1:38 left.
San Antonio took the floor without key reserves Helen Darling and Edwige Lawson-Wade. Both wore protective boots at the bottom of their right legs after Darling strained her right calf and Lawson-Wade sprained her right ankle sprain during Saturday's Game 2 victory.