SACRAMENTO, Calif., Sept. 5 (Ticker) -- Ticha Penicheiro continues to be the Sacramento Monarchs' go-to player.

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Penicheiro scored seven of her 16 points in the final 6 1/2 minutes as the Monarchs captured the opener of the Western Conference finals with a 77-69 victory over the defending WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks.

Sacramento needed Penicheiro to convert a driving layup with 2.8 seconds left for Tuesday's 70-68 victory at Houston in Game Three of the first round. The creative Portuguese playmaker again came through again with some key baskets.

After DeLisha Milton gave Los Angeles its final lead at 62-60 with a layup with 6:39 remaining, Penicheiro responded with a 3-pointer 20 seconds later to put Sacramento ahead for good. Penicheiro added a driving layup and two foul shots by Yolanda Griffith made it 67-62 with just under five minutes to go.

"We talked to Ticha before the last Houston game and then we did it again today," Sacramento coach John Whisenant said. "I've been with her for a month and a half now and she is a better shooter than she gives herself credit for."

The Sparks managed just two baskets in the final 6 1/2 minutes, including Nikki Teasley's finger roll that sliced the deficit to 73-69 with 91 seconds remaining. Los Angeles had a chance to creep closer, but Mwadi Mabika missed a jumper with just under a minute left.

Rookie Kara Lawson and Penicheiro each made a pair of foul shots in the final 34 seconds to seal the win.

The series shifts to Los Angeles for Game Two on Sunday. The top-seeded Sparks also lost the opener in the first round at Minnesota before capturing the final two games at home.

"We did this against Minnesota and now we are going back to focus on Sunday's game," Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper said. "We can't think about two games, we need to focus on winning this second game and think we can focus on the next one."

Griffith collected 17 points and seven rebounds and Tangela Smith added 14 points. DeMya Walker was the fourth starter in double figures with 11 for Sacramento, which is one win from its first trip to the WNBA Finals.

"We just need to go and play Monarchs' basketball," Smith said. "If we play great defense and go in there and rebound and play as a team, then we'll be all right."

The Monarchs lost the 2001 Western Conference finals in three games to the Sparks.

With a frenzied crowd of 13,986 looking on, Sacramento built an early 12-6 advantage. Smith's layup made it 37-26 with 4:22 to go before halftime and the Monarchs took a 43-34 edge into intermission.

"I felt that our team didn't come out the first half as strong as we could have," Sparks center Lisa Leslie said. "It was hard being down and trying to come back, but we fought through it."

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Milton capped a 10-2 tear that pulled Los Angeles within 51-48 with 13:21 to go. The Sparks finally pulled even on Leslie's bucket with eight minutes remaining.

Leslie collected 25 points and seven rebounds and Milton added 20 and seven, but Los Angeles failed to get its usual production from the rest of its starters. Mabika, who averages 13.8 points per game, netted eight on 3-of-17 shooting.

The Monarchs received a scare when Penicheiro collided with Leslie and left with 9:43 remaining. She returned to a nice ovation 90 seconds later.