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McWilliams-Franklin, Sun Rise to Finals

Associated Press
Monday, October 4, 2004; Page D04

Taj McWilliams-Franklin burst into tears at the buzzer, her emotions finally getting the best of her.

The Connecticut Sun is heading to the WNBA Finals for first time.

Connecticut's Nykesha Sales runs up the court past after the Sun defeat the Liberty 60-57 to win the WNBA Eastern Conference Finals. (Bob Child - AP)

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Her 18 points and nine rebounds led the Sun to a 60-57 win yesterday over the New York Liberty in Uncasville, Conn., for a two-game sweep of the Eastern Conference finals.

An original member of the Orlando Miracle that moved to Connecticut last season, McWilliams-Franklin made one of two free throws with 48 seconds left to give the Sun a 55-54 edge. New York was denied a fifth trip to the championship series.

"It's been seven long years for me," McWilliams-Franklin said. "It's remarkable. All I was thinking was to try and get some rebounds and get some extra opportunities to score."

The Sun squandered plenty of scoring chances early on, missing open layups off its transition game. But McWilliams-Franklin kept them in the game with time running out. She had a key defensive rebound with less than 1 1/2 minutes left that led to a fast-break layup by rookie guard Lindsay Whalen to tie it at 54.

"I thought she kind of willed us to win between of her rebounding and her help on defense," Sun Coach Mike Thibault said. "In the end, she was the one person who stepped up and kept making shots around the basket. I think her teammates knew they could ride her back."

Katie Douglas extended Connecticut's lead to 59-54 by hitting all four of her free throws down the stretch. New York had three turnovers in the final seconds but countered with a three-pointer from Elena Baranova with 1.7 seconds left. Whalen sealed the victory by making a free throw with six-tenths of a second left. New York was unable to get a shot off before the buzzer.

"Their defense was good, but I thought our execution was poor at the end," Liberty interim coach Pat Coyle said. "Down the stretch, that can't happen."

Douglas finished with 14 points for the Sun, while Whalen and Nykesha Sales added 11 apiece. Vickie Johnson led New York with 19 points and Crystal Robinson added 11.

The Sun had posted three straight double-digit playoff victories coming into the game.

"I knew since we beat them in New York it was going to be a dogfight here," Whalen said.

There were 16 lead changes and neither team led by more than five points.

New York scored nine points off 13 turnovers in the first half. Sales, the other original Orlando Miracle member, scored all nine of her first-half points on three-pointers for the Sun, which led 26-25 lead at the break.

Sales hasn't been to a championship round since her college days at Connecticut when she played on U-Conn.'s first national title team in 1995.

"It feels like all the hard work paid off as a team," Sales said.

STORM 66, MONARCHS 54: Lauren Jackson scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds as Seattle, playing at home, forced a decisive third game in the Western Conference finals.

Game 3 is Tuesday night in Seattle. DeMya Walker led Sacramento with 15 points.

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