Hammon Sparks Silver Stars to Playoff-Opening Win

Associated Press
Friday, September 19, 2008; 12:10 AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Becky Hammon made six 3-pointers and scored 30 points to give the San Antonio Silver Stars a 85-78 victory over the Sacramento Monarchs in the opener of the WNBA's Western Conference playoffs on Thursday night.

Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Saturday in San Antonio. The Silver Stars posted a league-best 24-10 record in the regular season and were 15-2 at home.

The Silver Stars played well down the stretch, winning their final five regular-season games to hold off Seattle and capture the Western Conference title.

The game was a contrast to last year's first-round meeting when the Monarchs beat San Antonio 86-65 at home in Game 1. The Silver Stars rallied to win the series with two victories on their floor, including a two-point victory in Game 3.

After struggling early, Sophia Young got going in the second half and finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. Vickie Johnson had 17 points and eight assists for the Silver Stars, who led by 22 in the third quarter. Erin Buescher scored 10 points and Ann Wauters had eight.

Ticha Penicheiro scored 19 points and had seven assists for Sacramento. Nicole Powell scored 16 points and Crystal Kelly had 12. Bothered by the defense of Johnson, Kara Lawson attempted only five shots and finished with seven points.

Hammon, a veteran guard who was criticized for playing on the Russian Olympic team at the Beijing Games, was the difference Thursday. She made her first six 3-point attempts and shot 9-of-14 overall.

The Monarchs chipped away at the lead and got to 72-65 on a rare 3-pointer by Penicheiro with 3:31 remaining. Sacramento made it 82-78 with a 3-pointer by Lawson with 22 seconds left, but Johnson made three late free throws to secure the victory.

Hammon sparked the Silver Stars early. The All-Star made three 3 pointers and had 13 points by the midway point in the first half, helping San Antonio establish a 38-21 lead. The Silver Stars jumped ahead despite Young going scoreless in the first 17 minutes.

Hammon jump-started the Silver Stars again to start the third quarter, hitting a 3-pointer and following with a three-point play that put San Antonio ahead 53-33.

Finally getting production from its bench, Sacramento slowed down the Silver Stars enough with its pressure defense to creep within 63-49 heading into the fourth quarter.

Missing injured starting forward Rebekkah Brunson and lacking its usual scoring punch from a deep reserve corps, Sacramento struggled to keep pace with the offensive-minded Silver Stars.

Hammon scored 13 points in a flawless opening half and Buescher had nine for San Antonio, which 45-29 at the break.

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