by John Schuhmann

DETROIT, Aug. 29, 2006 -- Taking a stroll around media availability between the two practices at the Palace today, there are several common themes and it doesn't matter which team you're talking to; the answers are the same.

Defense, rebounding, effort and bench play. That will win the series for insert team name here.

It's going to be a knock-'em-down, grind-it-out kinda series. Scoring could be low. Intensity will certainly be high.

Both teams respect each other, but they both believe they're the better team. In the end, the better team will be the one that plays harder, as Swin Cash summed up.

"I think it's basically gonna come down to a test of wills," she said. And then, pointing to her heart, "The game's gonna be won right in here. It's not gonna be won where sometimes you see talent taking over. It's gonna be won by who gets down and dirty the most."

Defense Wins Championships
Ford will need help on the boards.
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images

Detroit and Sacramento were second and third respectively when it came to opponents' points per game this season. The Monarchs were the best field goal percentage defense in the league. For both teams, their offense comes from their defense and each team spent a good amount of time on defensive sets today in practice.

Katie Smith knows how difficult Sacramento's D can be, as she scored just four points while shooting 0-for-5 from the field in their first meeting this season.

"They take things away that they're used to getting," she said.

Coach Bill Laimbeer agrees.

"I think their defense is very swarming," he said. "They try to disrupt your offense."

Rebound, Rebound, Rebound

When Bill Laimbeer is your coach, rebounding is going to be a big focus of what you're trying to do. When Cheryl Ford is your power forward, rebounding is going to be an advantage.

Not surprisingly, the Shock led the league in rebounding this season and have out-boarded their opponents by almost six per game so far in the postseason. And it's not like the Monarchs' frontline can't hang. So, everyone we talked to today acknowledged the importance of the battle of the boards.

"Rebounding is huge," Kara Braxton told us and her coach admitted to keeping a close eye on the numbers during the course of the game.

"Every timeout," he said. "You get a statsheet every timeout and you review the statsheet. That's one of the things you look at."

And when those numbers don't look favorable, you can be sure that his players get a reminder of what it takes to turn things around.

"Rebounding is all desire, hard work and effort," he said.

But when you have a player who just recently grabbed a playoff-record 23 boards in one game, might everyone else let her just do her thing?

"Probably during the regular season, just because it's so consistent," Laimbeer told us. "But in the playoffs, you can't count on that. Everybody has to go rebound."

Both Katie Smith and Swin Cash echoed their coach's sentiments.

"All of us have to rebound," Smith said. "Not just our bigs, but myself included."

"It's gonna be up to our guards and myself and Ruth to really help Cheryl and not have her get like 30 rebounds and us get one or two," Cash remarked. "We have to collectively rebound as a group."

Really, It's No Big Deal

Most of the key players in this series have been here before. The Shock won it all in 2003. The Monarchs are the defending champs. The only new Finals face we have is that of Katie Smith. But don't expect any jitters from the two turned point guard.

"Been there, done that," she said. "Not necessarily in the WNBA Finals, but it's just a game."

She has won championships in the ABL. She has won Olympic gold. And hey, she's not exactly a rookie either.

"I'm excited, but I'm 32 years old and I've been playing basketball since I was in the fifth grade," she said, "so not much surprises me and not much makes me nervous. It's another ball game. It's going out and proving who's the best team."

But Smith still might just want this one more than her teammates and opponents who already have rings.

"She's hungry," Swin Cash said. "She wants a championship. She's never been here before and this is an opportunity for her to get a group like ourselves and just really go out there and win one."

Cue Aretha

R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

They've made their second consecutive trip to the Finals, but the Monarchs still believe they're being disrespected. Last year, there was that whole "Yeah, but Lindsay Whalen was hurt" thing. This year, they haven't exactly been called favorites.

"We've always been the underdogs," Yolanda Griffith said. "Even when we won last year, we didn't get the respect."

But that's OK. A little extra motivation is not a bad thing.

"It's fine with us," Nicole Powell said. "We're here, we believe in ourselves and we think we can do it. And that's all that matters."