- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Sparks were so dominating, they needed just one half to put the game away.
Lisa Leslie scored 25 points as the Sparks overpowered the Utah Starzz 103-77 yesterday to sweep the Western Conference finals and advance to the WNBA finals.
"We ran into a team that is clicking on all cylinders and just shooting the ball as well as just about any team I've ever seen," Utah coach Candi Harvey said.
The Sparks' 103 points were a WNBA playoff record, topping the 101 they scored against Phoenix in the first round on Aug.13,2000.
After jumping out to a 15-point halftime lead, the Sparks continued the rout in the second half to open a 30-point advantage. Besides Leslie, DeLisha Milton had 19 points, Mwadi Mabika had 15 points and nine rebounds, Tamecka Dixon had 15 points and rookie Nikki Teasley added 11 points and nine assists.
"This is the best I've ever seen this team play," said Sparks coach Michael Cooper, who has been with the team for 3 years. "They understand now what it takes not only to become champions but to repeat as champions."
Defense of their league title begins Thursday against the Eastern Conference champion. Washington and New York are tied 1-1 in that best-of-3 series with Game 3 today in New York.
"New York-L.A. sounds the best, but Washington has been doing great," Leslie said of a potential matchup. "At this point, it's just about the championship. Our main goal right now is to get Game 1."
Fans buoyed by the prospect of the Sparks winning a second consecutive championship chanted "back to back" when Los Angeles led by 21 points with 13 minutes to play.
The Sparks shot 51 percent, had 31 assists and outscored the Starzz 14-0 on fast-break points.
"We came out aggressive and we wanted to jump on them first," Leslie said. "We played great team defense that's where championships are won. Offensively, we played excellent as far as moving the ball and finding open players."
The Starzz were completely outplayed in the second half, when they never made a run and fell behind against the WNBA's highest-scoring playoff team.
"They are so talented, and they are peaking and pulling together at the right time," Utah guard Jennifer Azzi said. "You can't stop them one-on-one, so it has to be a team effort defensively. That's something that we didn't have, so they got on a roll and they got momentum. When you have that much talent, it's just hard to stop."
Adrienne Goodson and Azzi scored 16 points each to lead the Starzz, who knocked off four-time WNBA champion Houston in the first round. Azzi tied Cynthia Cooper's league playoff record with 12 assists.
"I certainly got more aggressive in the second half. No one else was doing it," Azzi said.
Margo Dydek, Utah's 7-foot center, was ineffective, with six points and five rebounds. Natalie Williams had seven points on 2-for-7 shooting.
Los Angeles put the game away in the first half with a 35-13 run that produced a 44-29 halftime lead.
After shooting 7-for-19 to start the game, the Sparks trailed 16-10. Milton started the game-breaking run as the Sparks scored eight in a row to tie 18-18. Then they rattled off 16 consecutive points.
"D is just an energizer," Cooper said. "Inserting her into the [starting] lineup, we wanted that energy starting from the beginning. She gave it to us, with good defense on Natalie and hitting her jump shots."

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