Walker sings redemption song in Game 3
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento's DeMya Walker doesn't let go of things easily. But when Yolanda Griffith tells you to do something well, if you're smart, you'll listen. And Walker is very smart.
The defensive mistake she made in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals -- rotating to help on Connecticut's Taj McWilliams-Franklin, leaving Brooke Wyckoff open for the game-tying 3-pointer -- was still eating at Walker during Game 3 on Sunday.
Wyckoff's shot with 2.0 seconds left sent Thursday's game to overtime, where the Sun outscored the Monarchs 7-0.
"I did take it hard personally, because I'm smarter than that," Walker said, although the error was an understandable one; Walker was following her instincts as she'd been trained.
"I knew the game plan, I knew I was supposed to take away the 3 -- and I didn't do it. So I was really disappointed in myself. Then I came out in the first half [Sunday] and didn't play the way I'm capable of playing."
Griffith could tell that Walker was letting Game 2 hang over into Game 3.
"During the game, Yo came up to me and said, 'Forget about it, just let it go,' " Walker said. "I think when she said that, it just allowed me to relax and let me get back into the flow of things."
That moment came near the end of the first half, during which McWilliams-Franklin scored 12 points. Walker said she considered that to be 12 more mistakes on her part. [Actually, it would only be six but Walker is pretty hard on herself.] It's hardly a mistake, though, for McWilliams-Franklin to score on you.
Still, Walker wanted that to stop, and told teammate Rebekkah Brunson it was time to "buckle down."
"We talked about it and we said, 'She's got 12, she don't get no more,' " Walker said.
McWilliams-Franklin did get a couple more baskets, finishing with 16 points. But that was acceptable for Walker.
"We felt like we focused in," she said, "and did the things that our coach asked us to do."
On the offensive end, Walker struggled from the field, going 3-for-11. But two of those were in the stretch where Sacramento built up its second-half lead -- both lefty hook shots where she danced around the defense. They were the kind of baskets not a lot of other players make.
Walker has that sort of unorthodox grace to her offensive game, and remember she's doing all this with a wounded knee and bulky brace. Walker has said, though, that she feels good physically. And emotionally, she felt much better Sunday.
"This was big enough to give us the final step on Tuesday," Walker said. "Tuesday is for all the marbles. There is no flight [back] to Connecticut. We don't want to go to Connecticut. We want to end it here. Our fans deserve the right to see this championship in front of their own eyes."
Going into Game 3, coach Mike Thibault said his Sun couldn't turn over the ball, had to stop Sacramento's transition and had to rebound with the Monarchs.
Two out of three -- Sacramento grabbed only one more rebound -- won't win a game for you, especially when Sacramento scored almost one-third of its points (20) off of Connecticut's 15 turnovers. Those giveaways also contributed to Sacramento attempting 12 more shots than the Sun.
Sacramento's continued success on the offensive glass (nine offensive rebounds) translated into 10 points. The Monarchs, who scored 16 second-chance points to the Sun's seven, took much better care of the ball, too, and Connecticut wasn't able to convert even once off of Sacramento's six turnovers.
Lindsay Whalen continues to tough it out with gutty performances on a hobbled left side. But as Thibault later said, Whalen "just struggled" in Game 3 and has "no explosion," which is why she played just 23 minutes. Thibault felt Whalen's backups, Jen Derevjanik and Jamie Carey, were "more effective," and the stats back it up: Whalen was 1-for-4 for two points and five turnovers; Derevjanik and Carey played a combined 23 minutes with only one turnover, though neither hit a field goal. Derevjanik also is a quicker defender right now.
Nykesha Sales (17 points in Game 3, 19.7 average in the series) and Taj McWilliams-Franklin (16 points) were big time, but the rest of the Sun -- which had four starters average double figures in the regular season -- combined for just eight field goals and no one scored more than seven points.
Connecticut's free-throw shooting also hurt. The Sun were one of the best teams at the foul line in the regular season, hitting 74 percent. But they were 10-for-19 on Sunday.
-- ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman
No one's disputing that Sheryl Swoopes had the better season. The Houston Comets star deserved her third regular-season MVP honor, which she was awarded Sunday. And it wasn't surprising to see Seattle's Lauren Jackson finish second in the voting, or Indiana's Tamika Catchings as the third overall vote-getter.
So what's the Catch?
"How can you have the No. 3 player in MVP balloting not make the first-team All-WNBA squad?" asks ESPN's Nancy Lieberman. "It's inexcusable that Catchings was not included on the first team. Swoopes had the best season, but Tamika Catchings and Lauren Jackson are the best players in the league."
We're scratching our heads, too, and wondered if the two guard, two forward, one center format for the teams contributed to Catchings getting left off the first squad. Swoopes and Jackson were the first-team forwards.
"If that's the case, it's a stupid way to do the voting," ESPN.com columnist Mechelle Voepel said. "What would you do if the five absolute best players in the league were all forwards? You need to award the best players, not penalize someone because she's at a position where you've got a ton of great players.
"Swoopes is versatile enough to be listed as a guard; that's how I did my ballot. And besides, Catchings is the best forward of the bunch, so how she got left out doesn't make any sense."
Lieberman said this is the second huge oversight in league balloting this season.
"We need to give people what they deserve," Lieberman said. "Lindsay Whalen was snubbed during the All-Star voting, and now the best player in the league wasn't picked first-team all-league."
Yolanda Griffith, Sacramento
Let's hear it for second-half performances. Truth be told, the Sun's Taj McWilliams-Franklin dominated the first half (her 12 points and five rebounds at the break were both game highs) as Griffith attempted just four field goals in the first 20 minutes. But Griffith came out a lot more physical after the break, scoring eight points in a 15-5 Sacramento run that helped give the Monarchs a 14-point lead midway through the second half. The Sun answered with 12 consecutive points, but Griffith's layup snapped Sacramento's five-minute scoreless streak and helped jump start a 9.0 run that Connecticut couldn't recover from. Griffith finished 7-for-12 from the field for a game-high 19 points. She also had a team-high 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass. It marked her first double-double of the Finals, but Griffith is averaging 20 points and 9.7 rebounds in the series.
“I guess I'm not much of a prognosticator, because I thought we would play our best game of the series today, and we played our worst. [Sacramento is] disruptive [defensively], but by this point in the series, we should be able to better handle it. ”
— Sun coach Mike Thibault
The fact that Connecticut didn't roll over despite being down by 14 with 8½ minutes left was a very good sign for the Sun's Nykesha
Sales. But it's
not as if you'd expect anything less from the team that had the best record in the league this year. "A lot happened for them on our turnovers," Sales said, echoing what the Sun also lamented after their loss in Game 1. "It was our mistakes." Sales said the first few minutes of the second half really cost the Sun. "It was huge -- they got some great shots and it deflated us a little bit," she said. "But being hungry to win and determined to finish the game out strong, we made a push at them. It's just a matter of who gets the most stops in a row." Sales said the Sun have made a habit of falling behind. "That's the trademark of our team, but this time the hole was too big and there's a lot more on the line. Teams aren't going to just let you smack them in the face, they're going to bite back. This time of year, it's not going to be easy, but it can happen." Guard Ticha Penicheiro says her Monarchs can't lose their focus down the stretch, as they did in Game 3 when they almost blew their lead. "We know they're not going to quit. They're going to try to take it back to Connecticut, and we can't let that happen. First of all, flying back across the country is crazy. We don't want to go there because anything can happen."
-- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
Monarchs point guard Ticha Penicheiro played a marvelous floor game, with only one turnover (plus six rebounds) in 31 minutes. She really got her team in transition and helps make Nicole Powell -- who was a real back-breaker Sunday going 4-for-8 from beyond the arc -- a better player. Powell is a catch-and-shoot player, not someone who creates her own shot off the dribble, and Penicheiro set her up perfectly several times. That's a big reason Sacramento was the best 3-point shooting team in the regular season, and the Monarchs were 6 of 11 from downtown Sunday. Kara Lawson, who's just a dogged competitor and contributed 16 big points off the bench, was 2-for-2 on 3-pointers and 4-for-7 from the field. Once again, she helped Sacramento's bench outscore its Connecticut counterparts, 24-8. On the series, they're 74-31.
-- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
Ticha Penicheiro turned
31 on Sunday, but she didn't do much celebrating for obvious reasons. "I'm going to wait and hopefully celebrate everything on Tuesday, delay my party a little bit," she said. "I got some cake, but they didn't give me any candles so I couldn't even make a wish." Obviously, there's only one thing she's wishing for now. "To win the championship," she said.
-- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
TUESDAY, SEPT. 20:
Game 4: Sun at Monarchs, ESPN2, 8 ET
THURSDAY, SEPT. 22:
* If necessary
MORE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- Chattanooga stuns Lady Vols; late block key
- S. Carolina women ranked No. 1 for first time
- Indiana high school honors Hill for cancer fight
- Amherst sets mark with 100th straight home win
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
STORIES FROM HUFFINGTON POST