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L.A. ties it up; Shock in finals

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Sacramento's Tangela Smith, below, and Los Angeles'<BR>   Lisa Leslie battle for a loose ball during Sunday's game.

Sacramento’s Tangela Smith, below, and Los Angeles’
Lisa Leslie battle for a loose ball during Sunday’s game.

Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Mwadi Mabika scored 24 points as the Los Angeles Sparks rolled to a 79-54 victory over the Sacramento Monarchs on Sunday and evened the WNBA Western Conference finals at 1-1.

The Sparks led by as many as 28 points before halftime, allowing coach Michael Cooper to rest many of his starters for Game 3 on Monday at Staples Center.

Lisa Leslie sat for the final 10 minutes and scored 16 points, Tamecka Dixon had 14 points in 29 minutes and point guard Nikki Teasley tied Mabika with a team-leading eight rebounds and added 10 assists.

Cooper attributed Mabika's success to Leslie, who was double-teamed by the Monarchs.

"Sacramento's such a great defensive team," Cooper said. "And they do a great job of weakside help. So we wanted to get (Mabika) up to the top of the key when they collapsed on (Leslie)."

Forward Tangela Smith led the Monarchs with 15 points and had a game-high 10 rebounds.

Tempers flared with 4 minutes to go after Sacramento's Ruthie Bolton was charged with a flagrant foul for tackling Tameka Dixon on a breakaway under the Sparks' basket. Dixon then converted both free throws to make it 71-49.

Early in the second half, with Teasley on the bench, the Monarchs cut a 46-26 halftime deficit to 14, the closest they would get.

But Teasley returned after a timeout with 13:29 to go and soon found Leslie with a lob pass for a layup and the Sparks began drawing away.

The Sparks dominated early on defense, limiting the Monarchs to just one basket in their first 11 shots.

"I thought defensively we came out and really took them out of their stuff," Cooper said. "They were confident and that's the reason we played so hard."

Los Angeles, meanwhile, hit eight of its first 13 attempts from the field, capitalizing on turnovers and revving up their transition game.

"I don't have an answer other than the Sparks are a very good team," Sacramento's interim coach John Whisenant said. "Our defense, which was a key to our getting here, wasn't there. We gave up 50 points in the paint and you can't do that and win basketball games." Monarchs point guard Ticha Penicheiro, whose 16-point performance keyed the Monarchs' victory in Game 1 on Friday night, left midway through the first half with a bruised rib and did not return.

Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith spent eight minutes of the first half on the bench with three personal fouls.

Mabika led all scorers in the first half with 14.

SHOCK 79, SUN 73: At Auburn Hills, Mich., Swin Cash scored 20 points and Deanna Nolan added 17 before leaving with a back injury as Detroit earned a berth in the WNBA finals with a 79-73 win Sunday night over Connecticut.

Detroit, which swept Connecticut in the best-of-three series and 6-0 for the year, will play either Sacramento or Los Angeles. The finals begin Friday.

Nolan was taken off the court on a stretcher after she fell violently on her back with Detroit ahead 65-64 with 5:28 to play. The shooting guard went up high in an attempt to block a layup attempt by Nykesha Sales and fell hard.

Connecticut led 69-65 with four minutes to play, but the rest of the game was all Detroit.