- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Nykesha Sales may have scored a team-high 18 points to lead the Connecticut Sun to a 76-56 victory over the Mystics in Game 3 of last night’s WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals, but rookie guard Lindsay Whalen was the catalyst.

Whalen scored 17 points and had six assists, turning the game around with her penetration moves in the first half as the Sun advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year.

Whalen sparked the Sun to a decisive 25-5 run over an eight-minute stretch in the first half. On three consecutive possessions, she drove to the basket and scored in traffic. Then, once the Mystics began to collapse on her, Whalen dished the ball off. She found Wendy Palmer-Davis alone in the low post, then found a wide-open Sales, who drilled a 3-pointer for a 14-point lead.

With the Mystics down by 16 at halftime, rookie Amanda Beard tried to rally Washington in the second half. She had 10 of the Mystics’ first 14 points in the second half on 6-for-8 shooting from the floor. She had two blocks and a steal and 14 of her game-high 22 points in the final 20 minutes, but it wasn’t enough. Chasity Melvin added 12 for the Mystics.

Washington cut the lead to 10 on a Beard layup with 4:36 left, but the Sun responded with a quick 8-0 run to ice the contest.

The Sun return to the conference finals for the second straight year and will face the New York Liberty. New York stunned defending WNBA champion Detroit on Tuesday night when Bethany Donaphin hit a turnaround jump shot with one second left for a 66-64 victory.

It was a disappointing finish for the Mystics, who rallied to win five of their final six regular-season games to make the playoffs and then dominated in a 67-59 win over Connecticut in the first game of the series.

After Connecticut outscored the Mystics by 16 in the first five minutes of Game 2, Washington vowed to play with more passion in Game 3. They did but had little to show for it.

Connecticut built a 12-7 lead as Washington missed seven of its first eight shots from the floor.

But the Mystics began to pound the ball inside and used an 8-0 run to take the lead.

Sales hit a 3-pointer from Whalen with 1.3 seconds left in the first half to give the Sun a 41-25 lead. Connecticut had a 17-13 edge in rebounding and ripped down seven offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes.

Sales had 16 points in the first half, while Whalen added 11. Beard led the Mystics with nine.

Whalen showed some of the same poise and talent she exhibited last spring when she led the Minnesota to the 2004 NCAA Final Four. Whalen averaged just 8.9 points in the regular season, but she had a career-high 21 points in Connecticut’s Game 2 victory and 16 points in Game 1. She was 15-for-16 from the foul line in Game 2 and turned the ball over only three times in the first two games of the series.

“You wouldn’t know she is a rookie, would you?” backup guard Debbie Black said. “When she is aggressive and attacking the basket, she is tough to stop. She is very comfortable in her role.”

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