WNBA.com is going bicoastal for the 2005 WNBA Finals. Throughout the week, we'll keep you informed of the latest happenings on and off the court with photos, fresh content and Q&As with players and coaches. The WNBA.com Finals Blog will be updated several times daily to bring you a real feel for what's happening in CT, Sac-town and the friendly skies in between...

Monarchs Reign Supreme
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 10:13 p.m. ET

Your 2005 WNBA Champs.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

Hail the new queens of the WNBA. Or, more appropriately, Monarchs.

After several years of challenging for the West's title, Sacramento finally made good on its nickname, reigning supreme over the rest of the league.

And through the journey, none held court more soundly than Sacramento center and Finals MVP, Yolanda Griffith. After flirting with a double-double for the first two contests in Connecticut, Griffith would not be denied in the two closeout games at Arco Arena, notching 19 points and 11 rebounds in Game 3 and following that up with 14 and 10 in Game 4.

Throughout the series, you could sense her hunger for a title to add to her already well decorated career. Griffith was all business during the series, rarely taking a moment to smile after any of the first two victories. Rest assured, smiles were plentiful by the time the finishing touches were put on Game 4. But those smiles would have to wait.

Griffith struggled early in the game, as did her Sacramento teammates, and the Monarchs found themselves down by six at halftime.

"I think you have to credit their defense in the first half," said Kara Lawson, who was held to a 1-for-6 shooting night. "They really pressured Nicole (Powell) and I and didn't want to let us even catch the ball. And when we came off screens, they were right there."

But the veteran Griffith came out strong in the second half and led her young team, which opened the half with a 9-0 run to take its first lead of the night -- a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

"We hit some shots," Griffith said before getting a taste of champagne. "We ran our offense. We crashed the boards. They out rebounded us tonight but we ran our offense the way we needed to. We played defense. And that's why we got back in the game."

Despite struggling from the field, Griffith led the Monarchs in scoring for a fourth game, collecting 14 points to go along with 10 rebounds.

It was those younger teammates, those pupils of hers, who lent support and point production to get the Monarchs back on top, as they had been doing all season.

"If it was not for my teammates being hungry like me," Griffith said on the team's march to the top, "and feeling the pain I felt so many years being in Sacramento, not being able to get over that hump -- I mean we had some young players that was hungry and they listened and they were determined. We beat each other up day in and day out in practice."

Held afloat by the scoring of Nicole Powell and the surprise 12 points from Rebekkah Brunson, the team benefitted from nine points and extra energy provided by DeMya Walker off the bench. Walker was active in disrupting plays on the defensive end, while creating scoring opportunities for her teammates at the other end of the floor.

Fitting it was Walker, who in Game 2 left her man to give up the game-winning three, in there on the final series forcing Nykesha Sales to push the tying shot wide right.

"We just wanted to make sure we didn't do what we had done in the second game," coach Whisenant summed up after the game. "We made sure DeMya knew she was playing. She was guarding her man all the way out, face guarding we call it."

So, while the spoils and face time go to the champions tonight, we have to believe we haven't seen the last of the Connecticut Sun. Finalists last year and this year, the Sun aren't content with their return trip to the Finals.

"The fact that we're in the Finals two years in a row is a great thing," Coach Thibault said after the loss. "We put ourselves in a tough position in this series losing Game 1. I think we're every bit as talented as Sacramento. But they made their breaks for themselves tonight."

The Sun's undoing for most of the series -- turnovers -- looked to be what would help it extend this series to a decisive game at home in the early stages of the game. The Sun forced the Monarchs into a number of early mistakes, which helped Connecticut jump out to a quick lead.

But the team never really got going offensively tonight. Sales was limited to only 10 points, her second-lowest total in seven career Finals contests. Taj McWilliams-Franklin registered a double-double, but that was it -- pulling down 10 boards to go with 10 points.

One bright spot for the Sun was the play of reserve Asjha Jones, who scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting in 27 minutes off the bench. In the second half, however, it seemed Jones was the only Sun player who could find the bucket.

"Tonight I really wanted to come out and be aggressive," Jones said. "And I found opportunities. Fortunately for me they were going in tonight, but not enough."

And in the end, the Sun just didn't have enough to deny the Monarchs their first WNBA championship. Or their right to party.

As Griffith told the 15,002 fans at Arco Arena, "Oh, my God, I'm going to party tonight."

Party, Yolanda, party. You've earned it.

The Monarchs Rule The WNBA
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 10:13 p.m. ET

The Sun set in Sacramento Tuesday night.

And a new WNBA Champion has been crowned. The Monarchs closed out the Sun in four games. They're setting up for the championship trophy presentation ceremony now. We're going in search of the initial reactions. Judging by Gavin Maloof standing on the scorers' table, I'd have to say there's jubilation overflowing in the arena and organization at the moment.

Yo For MVP?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 10:11 p.m. ET

WNBA.com users say Yolanda Griffith is their MVP. But do the other vote holders agree? Only 0.4 seconds remain on the clock after Nykesha Sales went wide on a triple try. The championship is Sacramento's for the taking. Will Griffith hoist the MVP trophy? We'll soon find out.

No Such Thing As Free
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 10:06 p.m. ET

At this point in the game, there's no such thing as a "free" throw. Every shot from the charity stripe has added weight and pressure. But the Monarchs are stepping up and knocking 'em down. Kara Lawson just hit her two. Speaking of two, that's the lead right now for the Monarchs.

Getting Ready To Celebrate
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 10:04 p.m. ET

The confetti cannons have been rolled into place, security is taking its post around the court and preparations are underway for a celebration. But, with the lead only at three, anything can happen.

If Necessary
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 10:00 p.m. ET

Game 5 in Connecticut is still labeled "If Necessary." It looks like it will stay that way and be a last second call. Yolanda's free throw makes it a three-point game. But Connecticut is looking confident.

Sun Always Rises
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 9:55 p.m. ET

And the Sun did just that. A Sales triple and Jamie Carey's dish down low to Taj McWilliams-Franklin cut the Monarchs lead to only three with only 3:23 to go.

Now's The Time
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 9:51 p.m. ET

If Connecticut plans to extend this series another game, they have to start getting stops now and close the gap. Asjha Jones has 11 second-half points (21 for the game) but isn't getting much help anywhere else.

Eight Up
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 9:42 p.m. ET

There isn't a fan in the house that isn't on his or her feet right now. And for good reason, the Monarchs have controlled the second half, opening up an eight-point lead. And the chant starts again: Beat ... The ... Sun ... Beat ... The ... Sun ...

Move The Ball
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 9:30 p.m. ET

We're not saying the Monarchs were prompted by the fan sitting a few rows from the court yelling, "C'mon, move the ball! Move it!" But they made the extra pass, or two really, to find Nicole Powell with a clean look from the left wing. Powell is 3-for-4 from downtown in the game.

Asjha Adds Scoring Punch
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 9:26 p.m. ET

With those last two from the charity stripe, Asjha Jones upped her nightly total to 14 points. That's two points more than she scored in the previous three games combined. It's that kind of bench production the Sun sorely lacked in its two losses in this series.

On The Run
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 9:15 p.m. ET

Wondering what happened to that Sun lead? The Monarchs came out with seven unanswered points to open the second and take a one-point edge -- their first lead of the game.

Maloofs Get The Memo
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 9:11 p.m. ET

Joe and Gavin Maloof are ready to cheer on their team in the second half. Donning the team's colors -- Gavin in a purple shirt, Joe in white -- they've assumed their courtside seats once again. Nicole Powell just gave them something to cheer about: another triple.

At The Half
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 9:06 p.m. ET

The Sun take a 31-25 lead to the locker room at the break. While there's still 20 minutes of play between now and the outcome, let's look at one key figure for Sun fans. When leading at the half, the Sun were only caught from behind once this postseason -- the Game 1 loss to Sacramento. The Sun led at the half in all four games against Detroit and Indiana, winning each one. The team was also 22-4 during the regular season in such instances.

Box Out
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 8:50 p.m. ET

The Sun have been strong on the offensive glass in Game 4. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images/NBAE)

In the last time out, with 1:38 on the clock, the team huddled up and O lympia Scott-Richardson got on the team to box out, saying, "Get on the offensive glass. They're getting too many rebounds."

Too Many Turnovers
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 8:43 p.m. ET

In two victories, the Monarchs have controlled the ball, only turning it over seven times in each contest. Already tonight, the Monarchs have given the ball up nine times. And there's 3:19 to play in the first half. Look no further than there to see why the Sun hold a 27-22 advantage.

National Champions
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 8:29 p.m. ET

The fine folks over at ESPN just flashed a nice graphic, and these Sun players know how to come up big under pressure. To wit, Nykesha Sales (UConn), Asjha Jones (UConn twice) and Katie Douglas (Purdue) have all won an NCAA National Championship game. Meanwhile, Monarchs Kara Lawson (Tennessee), Ticha Penicheiro (Old Dominion) and Kristin Haynie (Mich. St.) all lost.

Sun Shooters Are ... Not
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 8:20 p.m. ET

Remember this comment? Forget I said that. The Sun as a team has been a bit off in the early stages, but persistence has helped them get second chance points. On the last series -- to give the Sun an 11-8 lead -- Lindsay Whalen attacked the basket and kicked the ball out to teammate Douglas. After Katie's missfire, Whalen snagged a rebound and her own subsequent miss for the putback. We haven't seen this kind of aggressiveness out of Whalen in the Finals this year. She could be an x-factor for the Sun in this game.

First To Score
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 8:07 p.m. ET

If you're a Monarchs fan, you have to love the fact the Sun were the first team on the board tonight. In this series, the first team to score has lost every game.

All Together Now
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 8:03 p.m. ET

Beat ... The ... Sun ... Beat ... The ... Sun ... Beat ... The ... Sun ... You get the idea of the chant from inside Arco. But then again, maybe you can hear it coming through the telecast on ESPN2.

Sun Shooters Are Hot
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 7:50 p.m. ET

We're watching the Sun warm up in front of the Monarchs bench and a few words of wisdom for the Monarchs: Better get your hands up. The trio of Katie Douglas, Brooke Wyckoff and Lindsay Whalen were spread out around the arc raining jumpers. And they weren't missing. Of course, it's a whole different ball game when you've got a defender draped all over you, so we'll watch to see if the hot hands continue in the early going.

Monarchs Take The Floor
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 7:39 p.m. ET

The teams have taken the floor for final warmups, with about 20 minutes until the tip. The Arco Arena fans gave a warm reception to their hometown Monarchs. The Sun? Not so much. Don't expect the building to get any more friendly when the game gets underway.

The Trophy Is In The Building
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 5:45 p.m. ET

While the players had stand-ins, the trophy did not.

We've seen the WNBA championship trophy. Well, sort of. The trophy, cloaked in the distinctive Tiffany's blue bag, made its way to the court for the run through of the trophy presentation ceremony. Not to worry: It's handlers are donning white gloves so as not to leave smudges on the hardware.

Arco Comes Alive
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 20, 2005 5:15 p.m. ET

We're back at Arco Arena, and I have to tell you, the building has come alive much earlier than for previous games in the series, and the energy is noticeably different today. Why? Because it's exciting to possibly crown a champion, that's why.

The first few games in the Finals, while exciting, lack that sense of finality a clinching opportunity presents. And while nobody is ready to count Connecticut out, you still have to be prepared in the event of a celebration. That's why crews have been running through the steps of setting up on-court for the trophy presentation ceremony -- complete with the p.a. announcer practicing her lines.

So, will there be one tonight? We've been trying to get a sense of what people around here are feeling. One thing we've found, is most folks are thinking Connecticut is in good shape if it can take tonight's game. The chance to have the decisive Game 5 on your home floor is what you play for all year long, but before the Sun reaps that benefit of having the league's best record, it has to pull out this victory tonight.

As for the Sacramento, well, they're not even entertaining the idea of going back east and are determined to end the series tonight.

The game gets underway at 8 p.m. on ESPN2, but we'll be checking in between now and then with all the action from Arco.

Back To Work
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 19, 2005 6:15 p.m. ET

If it's Monday, it must mean we're all back to work -- including the Connecticut Sun and Sacramento Monarchs, who each put in 40 minutes of physical labor yesterday to cap a more-than-40-hour work week.

And you'd think after picking up a big win to take a 2-1 lead in the WNBA Finals, Coach Whisenant might go a little easier on his players. But, no. There he was at the end of practice today, shouting out, "Don't foul. Don't turn it over. Make your free throws." Wonder how many times the players have heard those words, the team's keys to victory?

And then there were the players, on what could be their final practice of the season, still learning a new drill. It seemed nobody really quite knew how the free throw drill worked, but it somehow involved players rotating shots and needing to hit 10 straight. But if you miss, you go down to what again? The reward for hitting 10 ... extra time with the media.

At the end of practice, a small halfcourt shooting contest broke out as it always seems to do when you put a bunch of hoopsters together. Kara Lawson, Olympia Scott-Richardson, Chelsea Newton and Rebekkah Brunson were all giving it a heave from the men's three-point line ... the far one, that is! Slightly out of range, Lawson moved up to halfcourt again, but this time backwards. Not much use for this shot in a game, but Lawson nailed her first and only try, using two hands to swish a line drive shot.

As for the mood of the team, well, they were keeping it light, but you could tell they realize there's work to be done. In talking with the players, however, you got a sense of their confidence. Take Ticha Penicheiro, for instance, talking about the fun the team is having right now: "Oh yeah, this is fun. Sometimes we get so caught up in focusing and getting ready for the game that you don't absorb it all. So, I think if we all win or when we all win tomorrow, then we can celebrate."

See, did you catch the "when" in that statement?

So, we wanted to see how the Sun players were feeling now that their backs are against the proverbial wall.

As Nykesha Sales told us, the team has really no choice but to reach down for their best effort and get a win to force a Game 5. "I think usually when we are against the wall we probably dig a little deeper," she said. "That's not good, hopefully you want to have that mentality throughout the whole series. But after the first loss, knowing we were against the wall, we had to come with something. Now we know the atmosphere here a little bit and what to expect, so maybe we can come out and be a little more aggressive the next game."

When talk of back to the wall mentality came up with Taj McWilliams-Franklin, she batted aside such talk with a, "Really?" She continued, "I guess. I'm not worried about that. It's not over until they blow the horn, so it will be fun. It will be interesting."

It was interesting for us to see the team's mood today. The players seemed reserved, but definitely not down or disappointed. They know there's a tough job lying ahead, but they have the comfort of knowing they return home if they can just capture the next game.

Joining the press corps today and interviewing the Sun players: Coach Mike Thibault's kids. The two, brandishing a handy cam and mic, were shooting a segment for their high school morning show, an all-access piece, if you will.

Two Down, One To Go
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 8:20 p.m. ET

The Monarchs' fans have faith. (NBAE/Getty Images)

If this were last year, the Monarchs would be celebrating a first-ever WNBA championship.

But it's not. And they're not.

For the first time, the WNBA Finals are a best-of-five format, meaning the Monarchs are in need of one more victory before popping the champagne.

"I wish we already had it wrapped up," Coach Whisenant said after Game 3, "and I would be on the golf course tomorrow. But we don't."

The links will have to wait a few more days, but maybe not long. After taking Game 3 at home, the Monarchs host Game 4 Tuesday.

"There's a great team over there," Whisenant said, "that wants us to go back to Connecticut with them and we don't want to go back."

If the Monarchs play the way they did today, they won't be going back to Mohegan Sun Arena for a decisive Game 5. They earned the victory in Game 3 the same way they did in Game 1: with ball control. The Sun have struggled in all three games with miscues, giving the ball up far too often. Sixteen Sun turnovers today led to 20 Sacramento points. On the flip side, the Sun failed to score on the seven Monarchs turnovers.

"They're disruptive," Thibault said of the Monarchs defense which forces many of those turnovers, "but by this point in the series we should be able to better handle it. We did a good job the other night of not throwing it away. I think that at least 60 percent of our turnovers tonight were us. Carelessness. YOu can't have the kind of errors we had."

The Sun have only tomorrow to try to turn things around and figure out how to limit their mistakes.

"Well, we go to the gym tomorrow," Thibault said, "we get a little stretch and get a little shooting in and we'll try not to turn it over by ourselves. Then we're just getting ready for Tuesday's game."

In addition to limiting their own turnovers, the Sun must force the Monarchs into more mistakes if they wish to take a game in Sacramento. For the second time in the series, the Monarchs tied a Finals record for fewest turnovers, giving away the ball only seven times in each of their victories.

"Normally in the regular season, we have been averaging 16, 17 turnovers," Yolanda Griffith said after the game, "and we know if we control the tempo of the game, have less turnovers, we have a pretty good chance of winning the game."

Another area of concern for Connecticut should be its bench production vs. that of the Monarchs. For the third straight game, the Sun bench was outscored by the deeper Monarchs team. The Sun reserves managed only eight points in Game 3 and have contributed a mere 31 through three contests. The Monarchs, however, have received 74 points from its bench.

With the bench not producing, the Sun starters are counted on to carry the load -- something Taj McWilliams-Franklin has seemingly been doing alone. After an impressive 24-point, 16-rebound performance in Game 2, Taj turned in 16 and 13 today. But Taj and Nykesha Sales, who's averaging 19.7 points per game, need somebody else on the team to step up.

"You would hope there's one more player to step up," Taj said. "It's not really about myself and Kesh, it is about the Connecticut Sun and when wew start focusing on two players, then we're going to lose anyway because two is always less than five."

But time is running out for Connecticut to find ways to cure their ills. The Monarchs know this, but they also know, while they're in good shape now, there are no guarantees.

"We're just going to face (Game 4) like it's a war and Yo might hurt somebody if we don't win that game."

Monarchs Surge Ahead
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 6:16 p.m. ET

With their 66-55 victory in Game 3, the Monarchs are a mere win away from capturing their first ever WNBA championship. That chance comes Tuesday night, when Sacramento hosts Game 4 at Arco Arena. After the game, DeMya Walker addressed the crowd, saying the team needs them again Tuesday night "because we're bringing the championship to Sacramento!" While the fans stream out into a sunny Sunday afternoon, we're heading down to the interview room and locker rooms to get the word on the game and Sacramento's thoughts on its clinching opportunity Tuesday. We'll be back shortly.

Yolanda Answers The Call
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 6:05 p.m. ET

Remember my last question? It appears Yolanda Griffith is as good a candidate as any. Griffith came up with a huge offensive board on a missed free throw, which the Monarchs used to push their lead to seven.

And Down The Stretch They Come
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 6:01 p.m. ET

Less than 90 seconds remain in this game and only four points separate the two clubs. Who's going to step up and lift their team to victory today?

Monarchs Have No Answer
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 5:53 p.m. ET

Connecticut's on a 12-0 run right now, cutting the Sacramento lead to only two points.

Sun Rising
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 5:50 p.m. ET

Sales and Sun are clawing their way back into this game. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

The Sun are climbing back into this game, slowly but surely. With only 5:00 remaining in the game, and the gap closed to four points, one gets the feeling we're in for a furious finish once again. Isn't that what we've been expecting, after all, from these two squads?

Turnovers Tell The Story
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 5:40 p.m. ET

Want to know how the Monarchs opened up their sizeable lead over the Sun? Look no further than turnovers and steals. Go ahead, we'll be right here, just a click of your "Back" button away. The Monarchs have only given up the ball four times, and the Sun haven't been able to turn any of those extra opportunities into points. Sacramento, on the other hand, is exploiting the Sun's mistakes, tallying 15 points on 13 turnovers. The Monarchs are active right now, getting deflections, hitting the deck for loose balls and tying up Sun players, which has translated to seven steals vs. the two for the Sun.

Blowing It Wide Open
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 5:32 p.m. ET

This game is about to get out of hand if Connecticut can't find a way to stop the Monarchs right now. Sacramento has pulled out to a 12 point advantage and the crowd is going wild at every steal, deflection and made basket. During a break in the action the Monarchs crew is holding up signs prompting the crowd to make some noise. Seems like they're doing just fine on their own.

Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 5:23 p.m. ET

Add Connecticut head coach Mike Thibault to the list of the walking wounded in this series. Thibault was shouting instruction to his team -- on defense -- when Katie Douglas deflected a pass. The ball smacked Thibault squarely in the kisser, leaving a cut across the bridge of his nose. We're fairly confident he'll be able to continue through the second half.

King In The House
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 5:04 p.m. ET

The Hip-Hop Violinist entertains the Arco crowd. (NBAE/Getty Images)

Former King, now Grizzly, Bobby Jackson just took a seat along the baseline to cheer on the Monarchs in their title quest.

Where did the time go? It's already halftime, and the Monarchs take a 35-31 lead to the locker room. Hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari, who did a spectacular rendition of the Star Spangled Banner prior to the game, is tearing it up at center court right now. Intrigued? She has a new album in stores this Tuesday.

The Half Monty
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 4:48 p.m. ET

During the last timeout, Monty, the Monarchs' mascot, entertained the fans with its dance skills. While we're not calling into question Monty's ability to cut a rug, we were slightly disturbed when we came to realization that the dragon wasn't donning any drawers. Then again, are pants really all that appropriate for animals? Right. Back to the game.

Leading The Cheers
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 4:32 p.m. ET

In case you're wondering ... Yes, the Maloofs are seated in the front row, midcourt. And yes, Joe Maloof is wielding a megaphone again.

On The Run
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 4:21 p.m. ET

Yesterday, Coach Thibault said his team was one of the best conditioned squads, playing with high energy. Looks as though the Monarchs are going to test their fitness today, pushing the pace at every opportunity. With every Connecticut misfire, Penicheiro, Haynie and Co. are leading the team in transition.

Powell Steps Back
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 4:16 p.m. ET

In Game 2, Nicole Powell tied a Finals single-game record by knocking down four triples, a mark also tied by Nykesha Sales in Game 2. Powell has continued firing from deep, connecting on two of three in the first 5:30 of this game.

Yolanda Serves A Tasty Dish
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 4:12 p.m. ET

Did you just see the sweet pass Yolanda Griffith served up to teammate Rebekkah Brunson off the inbounds pass? Fronted by Margo Dydek, Griffith wisely -- and craftily -- squirted the ball to the inbounder for the easy two. The crowd loved it.

"How Loud?" You Ask ...
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 4:06 p.m. ET

Well, the first foul and two makes from the charity stripe cooled down the crowd here at Arco, but wow! this place really comes alive. The fans here are armed with Thunder Stix and nearly every fan is standing, clapping them to the familiar Dee-Fense! Sacramento's first bucket gives the fans the opportunity to take a seat, but the noise continues.

Up Close and Personal
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 3:57 p.m. ET

Talk about access, which is really what this Blog is all about, we are seated directly behind the Monarchs bench. How close, you may ask? I just handed Kristin Haynie a towel and a cup of water. Just wait until that first time out... In other news, it is really loud in here. We can't even hear ourselves type.

Ready for War...
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 3:44 p.m. ET

As this is a Sunday afternoon and there are lots of NFL football games going on around the country as we speak, the Sacramento Monarchs have taken on that football player mentality for the all-important Game 3, wearing eye black under their left eye. Be sure the tune in to ABC to see each player with the black war paint on their faces. Think this team is ready for a tough battle in the trenches? We're looking forward to seeing if Coach John Whisenant is also donning the mark on his face.

And the Winner Is...
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 2:05 p.m. ET

Comets forward Sheryl Swoopes, the 2005 WNBA MVP.
Chat with Swoopes live during the second half.

Whalen Looks Ready
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 1:58 p.m. ET

Lindsay Whalen - in her Sun warm-ups - looks ready to go.

V.I.P.s Begin to Arrive
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 18, 2005 12:54 p.m. ET

Back in ARCO bright and early (by Pacific time standards), the rehearsals are currently taking place at center court for the All-WNBA and MVP presentations that will take place during the game. And while the announcements are still more than an hour away, I will say that there was an All-Star cast of characters at the hotel restaurant last night, catching up with one another and enjoying the beginning of their respective offseasons.

The WNBA actually has place fillers in the presentation rehearsal, and while we tried hard to volunteer for one of the spots to get the ultimate experience of hearing someone else's name called out over the public address system, the local Monarchs and ARCO employees were given the honor of holding up replica trophies. The real awards are currently being held under lock and key deep in the recesses of the arena.

Meanwhile, both teams skipped their optional shootarounds in favor of some additional rest. The early start time likely played a factor, but unfortunately it means we'll have to wait awhile to update any injuries or last minute news that might have taken place overnight. All we can do now is wait.

Be Smart-Be Fit-Be Yourself. Be There.
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 17, 2005 7:54 p.m. ET

After finishing up practice and as the Sun were running their tails off in Coach Mike Thibault's practice, the entire Sacramento Monarchs team headed across town to the Ray Robinson Oak Park Salvation Army this afternoon to work out with about 70 Sacramento children and share the importance of a healthy lifestyle with them.

As part of the WNBA's Be Smart - Be Fit - Be Yourself program, the Monarchs led children in exercises and discussons about the importance of nutrition and fitness in their daily lives. Leading the way at the outset were Carla McGhee and Miss Monarch herself, Ruthie Bolton, as emcees. Of course, even though she has been one of the faces of the team and involved with this year's team on a daily basis, she was still brushing up on the pronunciation of some of her former teammates' names prior to the event getting started. Let that be a lesson, kids. You can never be too prepared. Before introducing Kara Lawson to speak to the kids, Ruthie Bolton pulled up her sleeves and flexed, showing that fitness was obviously still important to her even after retiring. It's a good thing the Sacramento Police Department was in the house because Ruthie was bringing out the big guns.

Then Lawson talked about eating the right foods, being active in various exercises and having a good attitude.

"It shows how important the community and you guys are to us for us to be here the day before a big game," Lawson told the crowd."

Finally, before breaking up into individual stations to demonstrate some of the techniques for abs, cardio and good nutrition, various players spoke candidly about the role of fitness and nutrition in their own lives and careers.

"It was certainly an adjustment I had to make coming in as a young player all those years ago," Yolanda Griffith said. "I needed to develop discipline to stay focused because as a rookie, you just want to play. But training is so important."

"I play all year round," Ticha Penicheiro said, "going back and forth, so for me, stretching is very important to stay in shape."

Upon learning that Ticha's birthday is tomorrow, Sunday, the 70 or so students serenaded her with an impromptu rendition of "Happy Birthday," making Ticha blush.

Of course, the best birthday present Ticha can get tomorrow would be from her teammates. A Game 3 win.

I Believe I Can Fly
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 17, 2005 6:50 p.m. ET

The scene is ARCO Arena, the day is Saturday and the time is, well, who knows what time it is with jetlag rearing its ugly head... But the WNBA Blog has arrived in Sacramento, even getting a big welcome from the unofficial Sacramento mascot to Monarchs practice: The Fly. Or more accurately, swarms of flies. With a Santana concert taking over ARCO on Friday night, the crews had all the doors open to set up for Sunday's Game 3, the flies found their way in kept practice interesting.

The Monarchs held their first practice back at home with as much energy as we have seen these Finals. Nicole Powell was even sporting a big shiner afterwards after colliding with a teammate in drills. that's not to say that they didn't have their share of fun as well as Chelsea Newton and Kristin Haynie paired up to challende Rebekkah Brunson and Olympia Scott-Richardson in a game of taps (also known as the tip-in game). Then a half-court shot bet was laid, but not from the center of the court but at the half line and the sideline. A near impossible shot, right? Well Kara Lawson swished her first shot, then Haynie hit followed right up by Scott-Richardson. Do they practice this? Then, for good measure, Lawson hit it again to silence all comers.

She then proceeded to dance around the court as if the had just won the championship. Maybe she was practicing for later in the week, who knows? But not to be outdone at all, Nicole Powell drained two 3-pointers from NBA range on her tush. That's right, sitting with legs crossed, Powell knocked down two big ones. Not sure when that will come in handy, but you never know...

So how does Coach Whisenant break down his two hour practices? The first 25 minutes are so are dedicated to film, followed by a Speed Break (running session) and stretching. Then, believe it or not, the Monarchs have a special drill designed just for Jump Stop moves. They spend the next 10 minutes shooting, broken up at each basket into guards and posts. Then the assistants organize the break drills, defense drills and offense drills with the starters wearing the black side of their reversible jerseys and the reserves wearing white. The practice rounds out with some scouting work and then free throws. Quite the workout for two hours, huh?

The Sun arrived at the arena still shaking off the cobwebs after their late arrival here last night (see below), but then ran hard and got in a vigorous workout as well. Lindsay Whalen did practice and indicated that she felt better, but would take things one day at a time. The issue is no longer her knee, but her sprained ankle. As you might expect, Brooke Wyckoff was still answering reporters' questions about The Shot.

Less than 24 hours to go before game 3 gets underway... Be there - ABC at 4 p.m. ET!

Daybreak in the Valley
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 17, 2005 12:20 p.m. ET (9:17 a.m. PT)

Sacramento in the morning, more than 150 years after some lucky prospectors discovered gold in those yonder hills.

WNBA Stars... They're Just Like Us
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) and Brad Barnett (former NBA.com Buzz writer) on Sept. 17, 2005 5:17 a.m. ET

After 16 hours of travel, the WNBA Finals Blog Squad has arrived in Sacramento.

Don't ask...

But our flight out from the East Coast to Sacramento was quite the enjoyable ride as much to our good fortune, we were joined by the Eastern Conference Champion Connecticut Sun. We knew early on this would be no ordinary flight. As we were preparing to board and chatting with power broker and WNBA enthusiast Angela Colt, the big question was... where would 7-2 Sun center Margo Dydek sit on this full flight (after booking late, we all had middle seats. Would she as well?).

Luckily, we were well-placed about the plane, able to snoop and spy on all mid-flight activities that Sun players and coaches et. al. were taking part in. With Barnett in the front and Wurst and Dengate at the aft of the cabin (a big hello to the elderly Sacramento native in 26C who filled us in on all the good restaurants to hit up while in town) and the Sun scattered in various between, we could not help but observe that WNBA stars... are just like us...

With Katie Douglas reading a gossip magazine and watching Dateline NBC on the personal television screen in front of her, it was not long before she was asleep. Meanwhile, up front, Coach Mike Thibault was voraciously digesting various newspapers and magazines (not to mention the bag of "Munchees" that he chose from the wide snack selection) and keeping the Red Sox-A's baseball game on in the corner of his eye (Editor's Note: He may not have known how to change the channel as it stayed on ESPN for the duration of the 7+ hour flight). Stuck in a middle seat, Taj McWilliams-Franklin repeatedly got up to stretch her legs, even picking up the latest In Touch magazine and thumbing through various others. Asjha Jones was noshing on a life-size bag of licorice and Nykesha Sales chose not to purchase the $5 in-flight movie (Wurst went for Mr. and Mrs. Smith while Barnett chose Kingdom of Heaven).

In answer to our previous question, Margo was sitting in the front row, aisle seat (1 D), with legs extended into the galley (that's kitchen for you layfolk). She sat next to Lindsay Whalen, who did not get up and test her healing legs at all during the journey. We did note that her left ankle was heavily wrapped, but no one wanted to wake her to ask if she will be playing on Sunday. We'll find that out at practice tomorrow (or later today).

Finally, after much delay, the plane touched down at 12:02 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, a mere 16 hours after the Blog crew departed Mohegan Sun yesterday morning, and 12 hours after the Sun team bus also departed Mohegan.

Again, don't ask.

With the series tied 1-1, everyone is now resting comfortably on the Left Coast. Practice begins in a mere 10 hours...

WNBA Fans Treated To An Instant Classic
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 16, 2005 12:01 a.m. ET

The Sun had reason to celebrate at the end of Game 2. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

The following statement will be greeted with very little, if any, disagreement: Game 2 of the WNBA Finals was one of the best basketball games you'll ever witness. Period.

And the reason is because of the performance of Connecticut's three veterans -- Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Nykesha Sales and Katie Douglas -- who stepped up and took over the game when it mattered most, with a huge assist from Brooke Wyckoff.

After getting pushed around in Game 1 and committing far too many mental mistakes leading to 15 turnovers, the Sun came out and played the Monarchs tough from the start of Game 2.

Banging down low all night -- and I do mean ALL NIGHT -- was McWilliams-Franklin. Logging an astonishing 41 minutes, McWilliams-Franklin registered a double-double, scoring 24 points and pulling down a Finals record 16 rebounds.

"Coach Hawk, our post coach, always says, 'Get to every rebound. You be the one to get to every rebound,'" McWilliams-Franklin said after the Game 2 victory. "You know, they are great leapers, I haven't jumped that high since -- hmm, I don't know if I've ever jumped that high. So I just wanted to make sure I got my hand on a few."

Perhaps making it easier for McWilliams-Franklin to get her hands on the ball was the absence of her 7-2 teammate, Margo Dydek, who played only 11 minutes in the game.

"Taj had a good feel going on how to play Yolanda (Griffith)," Coach Thibault explained, "and we had put Margo on (Rebekkah) Brunson and then Brunson got in foul trouble and was out of the game. They came in with a smaller, quicker player in DeMya Walker and I thought Brooke and Asjha (Jones) did a better job in that regards."

While McWilliams-Franklin's performance was worthy of stirring up MVP talk, she received a considerable boost from Wyckoff, who forced the game to overtime, hitting an unlikely three, only one night after teammate Lindsay Whalen missed a late triple that could have tied the game.

"First it was a feeling of relief," Wyckoff said reliving her big shot, "like, you know, we were back in the game and that I actually hit the shot and wasn't the dork that missed it at the end with the wide open shot."

The moment was one of redemption for Wyckoff, who watched the Sun lose to Seattle in last year's finals because of a torn ACL.

Also coming up huge for the Sun, once again, was All-Star Sales. With 19 points in Game 2, Sales has tallied 99 points in five career Finals games, an average of 19.8 points. Of all players to have played a minimum of five Finals games, only Cynthia Cooper (23.8 ppg) has averaged more points.

Sales was joined by Douglas in picking up the scoring for Whalen, who sat the game out because of a twisted left ankle. Douglas chipped in 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, but struggled from long range, shooting only 1-of-5.

But from long range was where Wyckoff did the most damage in this game, taking the spirit and momentum out of the Monarchs.

In the extra stanza, Sacramento was clearly stung by the shot, failing to score a point and setting a Finals record for scoring futility in an overtime session.

As Griffith summed up the team's mood after believing they had the victory in hand, only to watch it slip away: "How would you feel?"

One would believe the Monarchs have to feel pleased to take a split home and stealing homecourt advantage in the series, but then again, maybe not.

"We've got two at ARCO (Arena) now," Monarchs coach John Whisenant said after the game, "but I don't really think home court makes a lot of difference. It's just with these two teams, they are very close, and I think this comes down to who playes well, so we've got to go play well in ARCO to win."

So, that's all for us. We're on our way to ARCO, too. We'd love to blog from the plane, but we're guessing it'll be tough to find a wi-fi hotspot at 33,000 feet. See you in Sacramento.

And The Fans Go Home Happy
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 10:24 p.m. ET

The Sun pulled out the victory, 77-70 in overtime, in front of the home fans, tying the series at one game apiece before tomorrow's flight to Sacramento. We're off in search of just what happened to the Monarchs in overtime and how the Sun players are feeling after the hard fought victory.

And One!
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 10:19 p.m. ET

If it was possible for this building to get any louder, it just happened, when, on back-to-back plays, the Sun got out on the break, got fouled and finished the play. The Sun are up seven with 90 seconds to go, and this crowd can smell the victory.

Then Again ...
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 10:12 p.m. ET

Remember what I just said? Well, the Monarchs just got stretched to overtime on a Brooke Wyckoff triple with under a second left on the clock. The Mohegan Sun Arena erupted! Hey, Connecticut and Sacramento, let's play five more.

Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 10:09 p.m. ET

With 8.6 seconds to go, and the Monarchs holding a one-point lead with Kara Lawson at the stripe for two shots, Sacramento is in the driver's seat to take a 2-0 lead. Lawson just hit both shots. Now, never leave your man. No threes. Pros know this, but we've seen it happen in recent months.

Vets Stepping Up For Sun
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 10:00 p.m. ET

With her 10th rebound, coming just inside the two-minute mark, Taj McWilliams-Franklin passed the double-double mark, having already scored 22 points. Between her and Sales, who just hit another big triple to give the Sun the lead again, Connecticut's veterans are keeping them in this game. Sales is 3-for-4 from beyond the arc tonight.

Courtside Sightings
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 9:50 p.m. ET

Norm McDonald gets down with Blaze at Game 2. (Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images)

Helping in the in-game entertainment department tonight ... Norm McDonald. The former Saturday Night Live star, sitting courtside across from the Sun bench, helped heave a t-shirt into the stands during a break in the action. McDonald is hanging on the edge of his seat with every made basket.

Basket For Basket
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 9:35 p.m. ET

Well, the teams haven't exactly been trading buckets, but this game has given us 13 lead changes and eight ties now -- and there's almost 10 minutes to play! Why does it feel like this game could come down to the final possession?

Deja Yo
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 9:18 p.m. ET

Overheard after the last Yolanda Griffith bucket: "Oh, don't let her get going again!" But, the only place Griffith is going, at the moment, is the bench, taking a quick breather. It appears she's getting a little attention paid to the left shoulder and neck area over on the sidelines.

Back And Forth At The Break
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 9:08 p.m. ET

Buckle your seatbelts folks, we're in for another flurry to the finish. The teams broke for the locker rooms separated by a single point. A quick look at the first half stats: Neither team is taking advantage of their trips to the stripe -- Connecticut is only 8-of-13 while Sacramento has converted on only two of its four attempts. The Sun got more active on the offensive glass, grabbing six in the half. They had only seven total in Game 1. Turnovers are likely to still make Coach Thibault unhappy, as the Sun have coughed the ball up seven times. They'll need to cut back on that number in the second half if they're to go to Sacramento knotted at one game each.

Maloofs ... Now Two Times Louder
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 8:51 p.m. ET

Away from home, the Monarchs still have one cheerleader.

Clearly disagreeing with some calls, of the apparent lack thereof, Monarchs owner Joe Maloof just sent for a megaphone. Hate to state the obvious ... but the Maloofs are sitting on the baseline again tonight. The megaphones have arrived, and, no, they're not purple. But, yes, they do still help you speak your mind.

Wiping The Glass
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 8:40 p.m. ET

The only thing keeping the Sun from blowing open a larger lead -- it's 31-26 with 4:57 left in the half -- is Sacramento's effectiveness on the offensive glass. The Monarchs have pulled down five of their 12 total boards on that end of the floor, leading in second-chance points 6-0.

Louie Louie!
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 8:31 p.m. ET

Not limiting themselves to making noise for the action on-court, the Connecticut faithful clapped in time with the Coast Guard Academy Band, as they belted out a classic. Louie Louie! Oh yeah. Me gotta go.

Sales Takes A Seat
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 8:18 p.m. ET

One problem with playing a team physical is that the officials have to keep order. And in order for them to do so, they have to blow the whistle. Sales got whistled for two quick fouls and takes a seat to avoid getting into serious foul trouble.

Make Some Noise ... Part II
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 8:13 p.m. ET

... I stand corrected. Strike up the band, which entertained us through the last timeout. We'll hear more tonight. As for the action on the floor, the game is another physical affair. The Sun are playing the Monarchs much more forcefully than last night. So far it's given them a 15-9 cushion.

Make Some Noise ...
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 8:09 p.m. ET

The home crowd is into the game early, cheering at every opportunity. With all that hangs in the balance -- going to Sacramento tied 1-1 vs. down 0-2 -- you can tell the fans understand the game's importance. Last night was loud, and even louder toward the end, but tonight it's deafening at the Mohegan Sun Arena. And the Coast Guard Academy Band hasn't even gotten in on the action, yet ...

Rough Start
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 8:03 p.m. ET

Like last night, the Sun controlled the opening tip. Unlike last night, the Sun are having trouble finding the bucket early and don't get on the board first. Sales had a clean look from the left side, but made contact with the side of the backboard. Meanwhile, at the other end, Nicole Powell converted a triple to give the Monarchs the early lead.

Follow The Leader
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 7:41 p.m. ET

Derevjanik was all smiles taking the floor for her first WNBA Finals start. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

With Whalen out, the Sun turn to second-year guard Jennifer Derevjanik, who has started exactly one game in her brief career. Is she up to the task? It appears so. When the Sun took the floor just now, Derevjanik was the first player out of the tunnel, leading them into layup lines. We'll keep an eye on her early play to see how the nerves and excitement of starting a big game may, or may not, affect her.

The Buzz At Game 2
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 7:17 p.m. ET

Whalen took part in the morning shootaround, but won't dress for Game 2. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

We're here at the arena, which is abuzz with players warming up and going through their pregame routines. There's also plenty of buzz coming from the media, and, well, it does and it doesn't have anything to do with whether Lindsay Whalen will play. For the record, she's not. More in a second. But first, all the buzz comes from the stellar media dining, where all eyes were fixated on a fountain of chocolate at the dessert table. Think Willy Wonka does fondue. We're just realizing the last two entries have revolved around sweets ... Think we might be turning to comfort food after a few days away from home?

Now, back to the important news: Whalen will not dress for tonight's game. That's the bad news. The good news is it has nothing to do with her knee. In last night's game she skipped through the lane and passed off the ball, but landed awkwardly, twisting her left ankle. So, we're told she's not playing tonight. The starting lineups have just been passed out and Jen Derevjanik will be getting her first start of these Finals.

I Want Candy
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 2:19 p.m. ET

Sacramento can never be too far away from its candy tub. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

Being a professional athlete certainly has its perks. That is why so many kids dream to grow up and become a star on the court someday. But there is one benefit that you might not know about.


It's true. whether at practice, in the locker room or even during the game, the Monarchs keep a tub filled with assorted candies and gum at hand, within arms reach of players, coaches, staff and whoever else might be craving some sugar. Sacramento's equipment managger Jill Culbertson is in charge of keeping the candy supply fresh and accommodating for all. It was a job she grew into when she started as a ball girl for the team several years ago, but the candy tub has been around even longer than she has.

"There are actually two dishes," Culbertson said. "We have one for practice and one for games. This season, it started with jolly ranchers and gum. Yolanda and Coach Mo like the watermelon ones. Then Nicole Powell asked us to put tootsie rolls in and those became popular. Rebekkah Brunson requested the new Jolly Rancher Fruit Chews."

Culbertson takes her job very seriously, trying to keep media and unsavory dot.com editors away from the goodies, but had no problem sharing more secrets.

"Ticha always takes two tootsie rolls and two sticks of gum before each game," she said. "Bunson likes a stick of spearmint gum at halftime. Even Coach Whis goes in there and takes stuff."

Almost on cue, as we were talking during shootaround, Ticha Penicheiro barged through to get a stick of peppermint Extra gum. Maybe all that sugar helps Sacramento play such a high-energy, frenetic defense.

It's a Boy!
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 12:22 p.m. ET

Once the news of the birth of Britney Spears' son hit the fan, everyone at both practices wanted to get in on offering name suggestions to the proud parents. Spears and husband Kevin Federline became parents on Wednesday. Here are some of the best name suggestions, just in case Spears, Federline or their friends and family are reading this...

Sun guard Lindsay Whalen: "Feathers McGullicutty Spears Federline. That baby is destined for greatness."

Sun forward Nykesha Sales: "Chase Goodwin Federline. That seems like a good Kevin-Britney mix."

ESPN sideline reporter Heather Cox: "I think I heard the actual name, but I would go with a name like Banjo."

Sun P.R. guy Bill Tavares: "Dill Spears."

USA Today writer Oscar Dixon: "Popsicle Flava'... and they can call him Pop for short."

Basketball News writer Joe Smith: "Spotlight."

Monarchs guard Kara Lawson: "Oops. And then they can call their next baby Oops I Did It Again."

Monarchs guard Nicole Powell: "James Dean Spears-Federline. It has that Southern-Hollywood mix, but they'll probably call him Jimmy Dean instead, like the sausage guy."

ESPN's Rebecca Lobo: "Jason Alexander Spears Federline, in honor of Brit's first husband."

Monarchs P.R. coordinator Rebecca Brutlag: "LeRoy Piccadilly."

Monarchs equipment manager Jill Culbertson: "Tom Abatamarco Federline."

Nykesha Sales and dot.com editor Matt Wurst talk about Britney's baby. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

But this just in... the boy's name is Preston Michael Spears Federline. Congratulations to all...

Is There Anything Better...
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 12:01 p.m. ET

...than coming back to your hotel room early to find that it has already been cleaned and made up? I don't think so.

No Joy in Uncasville
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 15, 2005 11:32 a.m. ET

Just ten hours or so after dropping Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, neither the Sun nor the sun were anywhere to be found. On a rainy morning in Connecticut, the Sun players were not yet out on the court for their designated practice time, but were still in the locker room going over film from last night's loss. When they did come out, Coach Thibault immediately wento to work on the few broadcasters and media members gathered.

"After watching tape, the game was still bad and we were still bad."

He was also angry about some calls that he felt did not go his way, but then started looking forward to tonight's game, promising that his team will come out better. But his team started out practice somewhat lethargically, still possibly tired from last night. However, the half court shot contest always livens everyone's spirits. Yesterday Margo Dydek was the only player to connect, but today Asjha Jones, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and even the equipment manager knocked down from looooong range.

As for tonight's game, the Sun know how badly they need a win.

"There is a huge sense of urgency," Lindsay Whalen said. "We see that. Personally, I'm feeling okay. I just have to be more aggressive and pick and choose my spots a little better."

"Every game is a must-win for us," McWilliams-Franklin said. "I'd say we are determined, but not desperate. I'm not sure there is much we need to change other than limiting our turnovers.

The Monarchs rolled into practice not long after the Sun, confident but not cocky after last night's win. These are pros who know not to get too far ahead of themselves.

"I didn't need to tell my players that last night's win was last night and it's time to look ahead. Yolanda (Griffith) was already doing that," Monarchs coach John Whisenant said."

"I will say that we did not play great defense last night," Griffith said. "Our white line reaction was a step slow. We have to talk more and can't let them go across the board like they were doing. In back-to-back games, sometimes you can respond and sometimes you can't. But no one expects us to win tonight. We have been underdogs all season and haven't gotten any respect. Everyone thought we were going to lose to L.A., then Houston got all the attention in the last series. We're just having fun. To win would be a dream come true, but even if we lose I'll still be happy because I enjoy my teammates."

One Down, Two To Go
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 11:07 p.m. ET

Griffith made the most of her opportunities in Game 1, lifting the Monarchs to a 1-0 series lead. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

Game 1 of the 2005 WNBA Finals has come and gone, and we're one game closer to watching a new champion crowned. In a contest punctuated by physical play, we witnessed everything we could have expected, and then some.

Stealing the headlines all week was the status of the point guards for each team -- Lindsay Whalen and Ticha Penicheiro. And as most everybody here believed, both suited up, with everything at stake in the best-of-five series. While both played a good chunk of minutes, each seemed to be impacted by the effects of their respective injuries, only creating more questions about their status for tomorrow's contest.

Also as expected, the game was a tight affair, going down to the final few possessions before being decided. It seemed fitting that the Monarchs would chase the Sun much of the time -- as they did for the league's top record in the regular season. But when 40 minutes had been played and the Monarchs captured their first ever WNBA Finals victory it was the wide margin of turnovers which proved the difference.

"It was pretty even most of the way," Sun coach Mike Thibault said after the game, "but the difference for me is obvious: turnovers. We had control of the game for a while and we gave it back."

Connecticut's 15 turnovers led to 17 Monarchs points, 13 of those coming in the second half when Sacramento seized control.

The player making the most of those opportunities was 35-year-old Yolanda Griffith, who played like it just might be her last chance at a championship.

"Don't tell everybody that," Griffith said to a reporter who mentioned her age, and then cracked a smile -- one of the few we saw from her today.

Giving up nearly as many inches (10) to Margo Dydek as she does years to the younger players on the court, Griffith took advantage of the few open looks she got down low and seemingly managed to corral every loose ball. She finished with 25 points, the fifth-highest single-game total in WNBA Finals history, and nine rebounds.

So, how does the Sun adjust for Game 2, which is a mere 21 hours away? And can it find an answer for Griffith? Or what caused all its turnovers?

The downfall of back-to-back game days is there's very little time to make any changes to what didn't work, or make adjustments for what did work for the other team.

"That's one of the things," Thibault said, "you don't have a lot of time. You've got to come watch the film in the morning and see the things that are there you can correct. It's not going to come by going out and practicing. It's going to come by mostly mental adjustments, more than anything, to understand what's available and what's not."

So when will Thibault get to work on studying game film?

"We can stay up all night tonight if we need to."

And will it be a late night?

"Whenever I'm done."

Not us, though. We're done for the night and putting the wraps on Game 1. But, we'll be back at tomorrow's shootaround and check in then.

Purple Pride
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 9:50 p.m. ET

Maloofs 1, Sun fan 0. As the final horn sounded and their team claimed a 69-65 victory in Game 1 of the Finals, the jubilant owners pumped their fists in the air and started heading for the tunnel. But not before engaging in a little lighthearted banter with a Sun fan, complete with the upside down thumb gesture. Followed by a throng of disappointed Sun fans. We'll be back soon to recap the night and give you a glimpse at what to expect in Game 2.

Three's A Charm
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 9:50 p.m. ET

It looks like three may be the magic number for the Monarchs. After two losses to the Sun during the regular season, they're about to steal Game 1 on the road. With only 16.4 seconds on the clock, the Monarchs hold a three point lead. Make that five now.

Five For Five
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 9:46 p.m. ET

Sacramento's back up by five and what kind of reaction does that get out of Ruthie Bolton, who spent eight years in a Monarchs uniform and is seated directly behind the team's bench? High fives all around. Bolton's hanging on every play, shouting out advice to the Sacramento players on the floor.

Get Behind Your Team
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 9:37 p.m. ET

Connecticut is making a run, trying to close the gap and the home fans are letting them hear it. The noise isn't coming from the yellow thunder sticks the fans seated behind us are wielding -- although those have my ears rining -- but rather it's sheer vocal chords. The place just erupted when Katie Douglas got a steal and took it the length of the floor to put the Sun ahead by one.

Ball Control
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 9:34 p.m. ET

A telling stat for why the Monarchs still hold a five-point lead with 7:38 to play: 15 points off 13 Sun turnovers. Every Connecticut player but Whalen has coughed the ball up at least once. The Monarchs on the other hand, have only four turnovers as a team. If the Sun hope to close that gap, they have to get some stops and stop giving up the ball.

No Place Like Home
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 9:25 p.m. ET

With time winding down on the shot clock, the Connecticut faithful grew increasingly more vocal, letting their star, Nykesha Sales, know time was running out. A check of the shot clock and Sales heaved a bank-shot -- good for three. We'll assume she called glass.

Let's Get Physical
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 9:18 p.m. ET

Things are getting mighty physical inside between the two clubs. Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin have been playing each other tough in the paint throughout the game. Then DeMya Walker laid a hard hit on Nykesha Sales, preventing an easy bucket. Now it's Yolanda Griffith roughing up Margo Dydek. The boo birds rang out most recently when Dydek grabbed a rebound and Griffith got tangled up -- both players crashing to the hardwood. Griffith, who we saw all day looking determined and focused, is usually accustomed to being one of the most dominant forces in the middle. Despite being charged with guarding, and being guarded by, Dydek, Griffith is the only Monarchs player scoring in double digits. As a result of their tough play, the Monarchs have opened up a four point lead after trailing most of the game.

No Questioning Her Handles
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 9:09 p.m. ET

While questions surround her ankle, Ticha Penicheiro showed her wizardry with the basketball early in the second half. After swiping the ball along the sideline from Nykesha Sales, she was doubled by Margo Dydek. Her way out? Through the legs -- those of the 7-2 Sun center -- leaving even the Connecticut crowd in awe.

Defense Wins Championships
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 8:57 p.m. ET

If there's one thing you've heard about any championship series, it's "defense wins championships." The mantra holds true with these two squads, as Connecticut takes a 31-27 edge to the locker room at the break. The teams were the top two offenses during the regular season, each averaging more than 74 points per game in these playoffs. We expect, now that the teams have a full 20 minutes behind them, to settle into their offenses and put some points on the board. Speaking of which, Lindsay Whalen is yet to score, after averaging 12.1 per game during the regular season.

Temeka Johnson Chat
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 8:45 p.m. ET

Don't forget, Washington's Temeka Johnson, 2005 WNBA Rookie of the Year, will join us in the second half to take your questions.

Settling Sun
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 8:35 p.m. ET

One could forgive Nykesha Sales for being amped up to start the game. She dropped 10 points in the first seven minutes, to lead all scorers. Since: Zero. Despite that, the Sun hold a four point lead with only three minutes remaining in the half.

Breathing Room
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 8:14 p.m. ET

Gavin and Joe Maloof cheer on their Sacramento Monarchs.
(Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty Images)

Penicheiro got more than five minutes of run to start the game, but at the first timeout she proceeded to the bench, promptly removing her left shoe. Maybe her ankle will give more problems than initially believed. And are the Maloofs concerned? The team's owners moved down to the baseline for a closer look. Or maybe they're just getting a closer seat for the game.

Three Throws
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 8:10 p.m. ET

Ticha Penicheiro looked like she hadn't missed a step with a sweet drive and dish to teammate Yolanda Griffith for two. But she gave back three on the other end, fouling Nykesha Sales behind the arc. Sales converted all three. If you're the Monarchs, you can ill-afford to put this team at the stripe: As a team the Sun has connected on better than 75 percent of its attempts.

Throw It Up!
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 8:02 p.m. ET

The colors have been presented; the Star Spangled Banner sung. Now it's time to get the game started. And judging by the crowd here at the Mohegan Sun Arena, they're ready to make some noise. And we're underway. The Sun control the opening tip and get on the board first -- much to the delight of the home crowd.

Whalen Watching
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 7:33 p.m. ET

At this morning's shootaround, Coach Thibault said, at that point, the decision to play was Lindsay's to make. Well, the waiting is over, as the starting lineups were distributed to the media. Starting at point guard for the Sun: No. 13, Lindsay Whalen. On the other end of the floor, Ticha Penicheiro will also be in the lineup when the ball's thrown in the air. How their injuries affect their play, we'll soon find out.

Whalen is Ready
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 7:14 p.m. ET

Still think Lindsay Whalen might not be ready to go? Well she just drained a 30-foot jumper with Jamie Carey in her face in warm-ups. All Carey could do was laugh. Now all she needs to do is handle Sacramento's vaunted pressure defense and play with the pain.

Your Rookie of the Year
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 6:08 p.m. ET

2005 WNBA Rookie of the Year Temeka Johnson with her mom, grandmother and WNBA President Donna Orender.

Chat with Temeka in the second half of the game or send in your questions now.

And We're Here...
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 5:43 p.m. ET

CLAP........... CLAP........... CLAP......... CLAP....... CLAP..... CLAP..... CLAP... CLAP... CLAP... CLAP. CLAP. CLAP.

Okay, so maybe the "slow clap" doesn't quite translate on the web, but the arena is already busy with excitement more than two hours before the game. The 2005 WNBA Rookie of the Year was at center court rehearsing her trophy presentation (we can't tell you who it is yet, but give it like 15 minutes). Photographers and reporters are busy powering up their respective machines and the PA Announcer is warming up his vocal chords. As more begins to develop, you know we'll be here to tell you about it...

Whalen and Penicheiro Look Ready
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 11:43 a.m. ET

Good news from this morning's shootaround... It looks like Lindsay Whalen and Ticha Penicheiro will both be ready for tonight's game. This comes just a day after Whalen was all but out for Game 1 and unlikely even for Game 2. Wearing her knee brace, Whalen practiced with the first team, running, cutting, jumping and shooting. Aside from the brace and the barrage of questions, you wouldn't know anything was even wrong with her knee.

After practice ended with Margo Dydek hitting the half court shot, reporters talked to Whalen and Thibault. Both said that she was feeling better and would be a game-time decision, but Whalen gave me the thumbs up and said she would give it a go. Thibault said that Whalen would make the final call after warm-ups, but we can't imagine her asking out in the Finals as she has the mentality of a hockey player.

"If she can play, she'll start," Thibault said. "The swelling is down and she can't be any more injured, so we'll see."

Thibault also talked for awhile about the upcoming series. He expects it to go either four or five games, but thinks it will be difficult to make many adjustments with no day off between Games 1 and 2. He indicated that his team is loose, but continues to be focused and expects them to be business-like throughout. He himself is relaxed most of the time, but admits that it fluctuates.

Finally, as he walked off the court, he said that he wanted to just start playing already. He admitted that he was bored last night with nothing to do and no further analysis or tape to watch.

"There wasn't even anything on television," the Sun coach said. "No football or anything."

The Monarchs were just as loose for their shootaround. Coach John Whisenant admitted that there was some nervousness and commented on the status of his own starting point guard, Penicheiro, who practiced with the first team as well despite recovering from an injured ankle that kept her out of the last series.

"Ticha has to play with that aggressiveness and really be able to attack," Coach Whis said. "She was a little tippy-toe in practice yesterday, but she's a smart player and was probably just looking to avoid getting hurt in practice. We'll see how she looks in the game."

As for finally getting over the hump and appearing in a WNBA Finals, Whisenant was not surprised.

"Sure we expected to be here, but you never know in this league. The talent has grown so much and this league has gotten so much better all around."

Also during Sacramento's shootaround, you saw just how much fun the players have with each other as an informal dodgeball session broke out between DeMya Walker, Kristin Haynie and Chelsea Newton. Laughter echoed through the empty arena, but in just a few hours, their laughter will be drowned out by 10,000 faithful Sun fans hoping to knock the smiles off their faces.

We'll check back in once we are at the arena for good this evening. The Rookie of the Year announcement is at 6 p.m. ET and the winner will join us for a chat with you, the fans, in the second half of the game tonight. Until then, enjoy your afternoon and get ready for a big night!

Five Reasons to Watch
Posted by WNBA P.R. on Sept. 14, 2005 10:12 a.m. ET

Recognizing the WNBA�s new best-of-five format for the Finals, which tip off tonight on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET, here are the top five reasons to watch:

5) Tune in early -- the WNBA will announce the winner of the 2005 Rookie of the Year Award.

4) The WNBA will crown a new champion for the third straight year. Connecticut returns to the Finals for the second consecutive year after losing to Seattle last season, while Sacramento makes its first appearance in the championship series.

3) Expect a lot of scoring. The Monarchs (75.8 ppg) and Sun (75.0 ppg) rank first and second, respectively, in scoring during the playoffs.

2) Both squads feature some of the league�s top players including the Monarchs' All-Stars Yolanda Griffith and DeMya Walkers, and Ticha Penicheiro, the league's all-time assists leader; the Sun is paced by All-Stars Nykesha Sales and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and Margo Dydek, the league�s top shot blocker.

1) Tune in late -- the competition will be fierce as neither team has lost a game during the 2005 Playoffs.

Whalen Practices
Posted by Jeff Dengate (WNBA.com) on Sept. 14, 2005 9:45 a.m. ET

This just in: Lindsay Whalen's a go for tonight's game. WNBA.com's Matt Wurst spoke with Lindsay and Sun Coach Mike Thibault during the team's morning shootaround and he indicated Whalen is expected to be ready. Whalen ran through the shootaround with the first team, a role held down by Jen Derevjanik at yesterday's practice. More to come from practice shortly.

Now It's Their Turn
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 13, 2005 4:58 p.m. ET

As soon as the Sun cleared the floor, the Monarchs took over for the first practice. But before it began, Sun coach Mike Thibault and Monarchs coach John Whisenant bumped into each other near the lockerrooms and stopped to chat and wish each other good luck. When Whisenant expressed concern and asked about the status of Whalen, Thibault frankly stated that "we're saying Game 3, but she could play in Game 2."

Whisenant admitted that he was sorry Whalen was not healthy because while he really wanted to beat the Sun, he "wanted to do it with the best" that Connecticut has to offer. The two then shook hands again and wished each other the best.

The Monarchs, who arrived around midnight on Monday night, then had all the media attention to themselves. Whisenant told the press that his own injured guard, Ticha Penicheiro, had practiced on Monday for the first time in a week, and while she wasn't ready to go today, "we'll see at 8 p.m. tomorrow," indicating that her status for Game 1 is a game-time decision.

Penicheiro said that it felt good to be back, though she still had some limitations, indication that she still can not cut or jump at 100 percent.

"I expect T to start," Kara Lawson said."

Other popular subjects for the media were Conference Finals heroes Nicole Powell and Lawson, as well as the veteran Yolanda Griffith, who is looking to win that first championship in her first trip to the WNBA Finals. Sacramento was loose and seemed to be having fun during their practice, yet poised and confident heading into tomorrow no matter who suits up or does not suit up to play for Connecticut.

Privately, more than one Monarchs player hinted that they think Whalen could be ready for Game 1 despite the indications to the contrary. Could it just be the first hints of gamesmanship? Stay tuned...

All Eyes on the Injuries
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 13, 2005 4:09 p.m. ET

Descending to the floor level at Mohegan Sun Arena this afternoon, attending our first practice of the Finals, every reporter first tried to make out Lindsay Whalen among the throng of players running set plays on one of the court. But they did not find her there, instead, they ultimately discovered her on the opposite end, shooting baskets casually with the team's assistant trainer. She was wearing the same mesh practice jersey as her teammates, the only difference being that Whalen had a hard knee brace on her left leg. She did not participate in contact drills or run at all during the practice.

In her place wearing the white jersey and practicing with the first team was second-year guard Jen Derevjanik. It was probably the first time all season she had practiced with the starters.

After practice, Whalen, her teammates and coach met with members of the media for the first time since her injury was announced. Thibault maintained that they are targeting Game 3, though they are not ruling out Game 2. Whalen, herself, is taking it one day at a time.

"I'll see how I feel tomorrow, in the morning. I felt good shooting today, but it's obviously different once you're out there in a game," she said. "This is obviously not something I wanted to happen."

When asked by hall-of-famer Nancy Lieberman whether she'd be effective if she were, say, 80 percent healthy, Whalen said she was not sure where she was at, but she knew something was wrong right away. But having never hurt her knee before, she was't sure what to expect or how long it will take for her to recover. Remember, though, this is a tough kid. As a senior at Minnesota, she broke her wrist in February and returned for the NCAA Tournament and led her team to the Final Four.

Meanwhile, Derevjanik and the Sun trainer had their crowd of reporters surrounding them, as well.

So just what is Whalen doing to ensure a speedy recovery? A little bit of everything: stim, ice, compression, wrap, elevation and anti-inflammatory. And is she scared to play?

"Nah, never."

School's In Session
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 13, 2005 12:24 p.m. ET

Looking out the windows of Mohegan Sun, you wouldn't think there was much else nearby, but you'd be wrong. Just 15 minutes or so south and west of Uncasville is the quaint little town of Waterford, CT. Nestled close to the Long Island Sound is the town's elementary school, Great Neck Elementary, daytime home to about 220 kindergarten through fifth graders.

But this morning, it was also the home to 10 WNBA players, one furry mascot and a coach who looked like he could very easily have been the school's P.E. teacher as the WNBA visited the school to put on a Read to Achieve Rally for the students.

Fifth grader Anne Foley introduced the event's emcee, WNBA legend Carla McGhee, who had the students cheering and hollering all morning long. In addition to introducing the Sun players, she also stressed the importance of reading as an integral part of all of our lives on a daily basis. Next, Sun guard Katie Douglas took over the mic and began peppering her teammates with questions about the role of reading in their lives. Aussie forward Laura Summerton talked about how she never would have gotten here had she not been able to read the signs in all the airports. Jamie Carey said she has already read 10 or 11 books so far this summer!

Proving the Finals are not all about the fierce competition on the court but also about having a little fun, the players then broke up individually and went to classrooms to read with the students from each grade. Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Katie Douglas even played a little trivia game with their third grade class, questioning them on the book they had just read together. But perhaps no image left a greater impression on the kids than the seeing 7-2 Margo Dydek sit in a small desk chair in one of the classrooms with a book in her hand.

The players had a great time as did the students and the teachers, and if the Sun can handle the Monarchs as well as they did these boisterous children on a hot fall day in a school without air conditioning, they are well on their way to winning their first title.

Time to head out to our first practice of the week...

Whalen Could Play in Game 2
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 13, 2005 12:03 p.m. ET

Time for your daily Lindsay Whalen update... I spoke with Sun coach Mike Thibault as he noshed on a muffin at this morning's Read to Achieve event at the Great Neck School in Waterford, CT (more on this in a few). The entire Sun team was present minus Whalen, who Thibault explianed "was going from one treatment to another," including accupuncture.

After another round of tests yesterday, an MRI revealed a fracture at the very top of her left tibia, just below the knee. Thibault actually thinks it might be two injuries - the fracture happened earlier in the season, but was compunded and aggravated by a hyperextension of the knee on Saturday. She is out for Game 1, but he has not ruled out the possibility that she could play in Game 2 on Thursday.

The Legend of Lobo
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 13, 2005 7:34 a.m. ET

Rebecca Lobo graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1995 and retired from the WNBA in 2003. Yet, she remains a legend in the state of Connecticut. In fact, you can't go anywhere without seeing or hearing her. On Monday, Lobo was on a local sports talk radio station to talk about the Finals, and every time I turn on my television, I see her (in triplicate - as a player, a broadcaster and a mother) in commercials for a company called McCue Mortgage. No doubt we will be seeing and hearing a lot more of Rebecca in the next week...

In Knee-d of Some Luck
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 12, 2005 9:13 p.m. ET

We also got some disappointing news today upon arriving that Sun point guard Lindsay Whalen suffered a fracture in her leg on Saturday and may not play at all in the series. Whalen is built to take contact, but an injured leg will severely limit her ability to get into the paint and create shots for herself and her teammates.

Officially, she suffered a non-displaced fracture of the tibial plateau of the left knee during the victory over Indiana in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday afternoon. She did keep playing in the game after the initial injury, but an MRI Sunday and a follow-up exam on Monday revealed the fracture.

Will Whalen play? It seems unlikely that she would play in Game 1, especially after one of our sources (ok, it was Sean Welsh in the NBA IT department who was in the arena today to set up for the games) saw Lindsay on crutches with the trainers on the bench during practice, but we are going to find out what that really means as soon as we can.

Been Down This Road Before
Posted by Matt Wurst (WNBA.com) on Sept. 12, 2005 4:24 p.m. ET

They say it is much easier to get someplace if you have already been there before. Well, the Connecticut Sun found their way back to the Finals, and so did we. Yes, the Finals Blog returns anew, ready bring you the behind-the-scenes access from every practice, shootaround, meeting, team meal and anything else they will let us into (...all while staying away from the casino) that you have come to know and love from your team of dedicated Bloggers (see: 2004 Finals Blog). We may even have some guest Bloggers along the way...

Of course, it wouldn't be a WNBA event if we weren't at the lovely Mohegan Sun Arena and Hotel. After all, we were here a year ago for the 2004 Finals and then back this past July for the best All-Star Game in league history. At least we know our way around at this point.

You know who else is pretty comfortable at the Mohegan Sun? The Connecticut Sun. The Sun return to the Finals after finishing the regular season with the best overall record (26-8) and only three losses at home all season. Joining the Sun in the 2005 WNBA Finals are the Sacramento Monarchs, meaning that a new champion will be crowned for the third straight season. It also means that these Finals will feature the best two teams in the league this season. This last happened in 2003, when Detroit had the best overall regular season record (25-9) and topped the Los Angeles Sparks (24-10). But despite neither team having lost a Playoff game yet in 2005, these two teams colliding was no foregone conclusion.

And had we skipped straight to the Finals instead of playing the first two rounds, we would have missed some great moments that will live on in WNBA history... Who will forget Fever guard Tully Bevilaqua lying on her back on the floor of Madison Square Garden, pumping her fist up at the heavens after a huge Game 1 three-pointer in the opening round? What about Sheryl Swoopes and her cast of Olympic teammates making a historic comeback by winning two elimination games on the road in Seattle. We got to watch Natalie Williams play a few more games before ending her prodigious career and see her help Tamika Catchings win her first playoff series. We also are witness players like Kara Lawson, Nicole Powell and DeMya Walker take the next step in their careers on a big stage. These are the reasons we watch and the reasons that we care. The Finals is an even bigger stage for players to shine and build their legacy.

Before wrapping up... you'll hear all the analysis you need before Game 1 tips off on Wednesday, but players play games and don't put much thought into pre-game predictions. They are, however, very superstitious. So with that in mind, here are the horoscopes for some key players in the series:

  • Yolanda Griffith (Pisces): "This week's scenario is highlighted by you experiencing a burst of energy and are more vigorous, bold, assertive and impatient at this time. You feel ambitious and capable of doing a lot and meeting challenges." (Translation: Yo will play this series with lots of energy, becoming a force to be reckoned with on the boards. Hitting some key shots early on will give her even more confidence down low.)
  • Margo Dydek (Taurus): "This week's scenario is highlighted by your ability to concentrate and focus on your work. This is a time to attend to details, take care of practical business and to make your life more stable and secure. It would be beneficial to consult advisors on investments and long-range plans and to put your affairs in order." (Translation: If Margo focuses on what she needs to do, defensive rebounding and staying out of foul trouble, she will have a better chance at making an impact on the offensive end)
  • Taj McWilliams-Franklin (Libra): "This week's scenario is highlighted by your desire for pleasure, ease and affection and is brought to the fore and may interfere with work or complicated situations in which you need to be acting assertively and on your own behalf. Your mood and attitude is conciliatory, and your need for love and approval heightened." (Translation: Taj might have trouble with some of the bigger, more athletic post players for Sacramento and needs to work hard to keep them at bay. She will have her hands full no matter who she is guarding, but she will also give her opponents a hard time as well).
  • Nicole Powell (Cancer): "This week's scenario is highlighted by light and pleasant interactions which characterize this time period. You gain what you want through diplomacy or charm and by enlisting the support of your friends, rather than by being forthright and bold. You are willing to make concessions in order to maintain harmony in your environment." (Translation: Powell will have a lot fun these Finals, enjoying the moment and playing for her first real championship. She will defer to her teammates when necessary, but won't be afraid to take big shots, either).

    Now as we prepare ourselves for five straight days indoors here at Mohegan, allow me to introduce the rest of the cast of blogging characters. Joining us this year will be a WNBA/NBA Finals veteran, Jeff Dengate, and a newcomer to the Finals, but certainly not to the game, Brad Friedman. With our credentials around our neck and the charming smiles on our faces, we'll have access to places that reporters and other members of the media will not, so stay tuned. And for these next two weeks, feel free to sit back and enjoy the ride as we guide you through yet another Finals adventure. Now, time to do some shopping at the Mohegan shops and enjoy a nice relaxing meal before things really get crazy here tomorrow. Oh, and buy toothpaste (I always forget to pack something). Perhaps I should see if our old friend Geno Auriemma is here yet. He is the guy to talk to when you need things in this state...

    And now, some random thoughts from the bus ride up from New York City and a Monday evening in a hotel room with nothing to do (as there were no practices and Sacramento isn't here yet):

  • Here we are in the middle of the woods of Connecticut, no doubt full of bears, but what ever happened to porridge? Does that still exist?

  • When you pick up food at a drive-thru window of a fast food restaurant at a highway rest stop, you are not really stopping or resting. But those McDonald's Quarter Pounders with cheese are still good.

  • Good year for Monarchs rookie point guard Kristin Haynie, who goes from the NCAA Finals in April to the WNBA Finals in September.

  • The only major professional sport in either Sacramento or Connecticut is basketball. That rules.

  • What ever happened to Right Said Fred?

  • Folding towels into little animals that the maids at hotels do is really one of the more underappreciated random talents that I can think of.

  • Gas prices may be at the highest point in recent memory, but at least I get to pay for it with my Capital One credit card. So not only is Capital One the presenting sponsor of the 2005 WNBA Playoffs, they are also the official credit card of the Blog-mobile.

  • It was 90-plus degrees here today and fall has yet to set in. Unlike last year, when the finals were in mid-October, I feel really cheated out of getting to experience fall in New England. Maybe the leaves will start to change by Game 5 next Thursday.

  • Cheerleading on television? Sport or not a sport? I'm going to vote yes. It takes skill, athleticism, has an official governing judging body for competitions, and mostly because I can't do it.

  • The security at Mohegan Sun is better than at most airports. You need to show like seven forms of identification just to get up to your room. I don't know whether to feel good or bad about that, but for the next four nights, until we all fly to Sacramento, I'll definitely sleep well.

  • With the 2004 Finals, 2005 All-Star and 2005 Finals all in Connecticut, I really feel cheated about not getting to maximize my frequent flier miles.

  • Did everyone catch the NBA charity game in Houston on TNT last night to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina? It was really a special event, and know that it is not too late to contribute to the relief effort.

    But on to brighter things, the Finals are almost here!