The San Antonio Silver Stars are one step away from the franchise's first trip to the WNBA finals, and after going 14-0 against the Eastern Conference, they'd have to be rather confident heading into a potential championship series.
To get there, though, they'll have to figure out a way to stop Candace Parker.
That hasn't been an easy task for the Silver Stars, who will open the best-of-three Western Conference finals on the road Thursday against the Los Angeles Sparks and their dazzling rookie.
San Antonio breezed through its games against the East this season without a loss, giving it the league's best record and home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs.
The Silver Stars were a pedestrian 10-10 within their conference, however, including a 2-2 mark against the Sparks with the home team winning each game. Even in the victories, they had no answer for Parker, who averaged 21.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in the season series.
Parker, who played college ball at Tennessee, is trying to become the first woman to win an NCAA championship, Olympic gold medal and a WNBA title in the same year. She's one win closer to pulling off that trifecta after leading the Sparks to a 71-64 road victory in the decisive game of their first-round series with Seattle on Tuesday.
Parker, who had been limited to 21 total points in the series' first two games, scored 20 in Game 3 - a performance coach Michael Cooper called "brilliant."
"The first two games I wasn't going through contact. I was expecting to get the foul,'' said Parker, who also had five rebounds and four assists. "I worked on powering through contact.''
San Antonio had to play a Game 3 on its home floor on Monday after failing to close out fourth-seeded Sacramento two days earlier at the AT&T Center. The Silver Stars built a seemingly comfortable 11-point lead late in the third quarter, but the Monarchs wouldn't go away, taking the game to overtime.
That's when Sophia Young stepped up, scoring seven of her game-high 27 points and leading San Antonio to an 86-81 win and the conference finals.
"Offensively, the ball was not always dropping like we would hope, but Sophia put us on her back and really carried this team tonight,'' said guard Becky Hammon, who had 14 points and six assists. "It probably hurts. She's going to need a rubdown later.''
Hammon averaged 17 points in the four regular-season meetings with Los Angeles. Young, who averaged 17.5 points and 5.6 rebounds overall this season, was held to 11.8 ppg and 4.0 rpg against the Sparks.
San Antonio will need Young and center Ann Wauters to control the paint better than they did in the regular season against Los Angeles. The Sparks are the league's best rebounding team (37.7 rpg) and the Silver Stars (32.2) the second-worst, but that discrepancy was even more pronounced when they faced each other. Los Angeles, led by the WNBA's top two rebounders in Parker (9.5 rpg) and Lisa Leslie (8.9), outrebounded San Antonio by an average of 12.8 per game in the season series.
Game 2 will be Saturday afternoon in San Antonio.