Tangela Smith and the Sacramento Monarchs tried to undo years of playoff frustration against the Los Angeles Sparks in 40 minutes.

Smith scored 15 of her 21 points in the first half and the Monarchs jumped out to a big early lead and cruised to a 72-52 triumph last night in the opener of their best-of-three Western Conference first-round series against the visiting Sparks.

The Monarchs, who never trailed against the team with the best regular season record, took the lead for good at 4-2 on a jumper by Smith just more than two minutes into the contest. Sacramento opened a 15-4 lead with 13 minutes 26 seconds remaining in the half on another jumper by Smith, who had eight points during the burst.

Yolanda Griffith added 17 points and 10 rebounds for Sacramento, which held a 35-20 advantage at the break before scoring the first 11 points of the second half to effectively put the game away.

Los Angeles has eliminated Sacramento from the playoffs three times overall, including twice in the last three Western Conference finals.

Mwadi Mabika had 15 points to pace the Sparks, who received just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting from leading MVP hopeful Lisa Leslie.

* LIBERTY 75, SHOCK 62: New York tied a franchise playoff record with nine three-pointers in a victory over host Detroit in Game 1 of the opening round of the WNBA playoffs.

"We just did a nice job of execution tonight," said Elena Baranova, who led New York with 17 points. "It's not just me that is making shots -- it's Becky Hammon and Crystal Robinson and Shameka Christon -- everyone on our team can shoot."

New York finished 9 of 16 from three-point range.

The loss means the defending champion will have to win Sunday and Tuesday in New York to avoid being eliminated in the best-of-three series.

"I think our team is embarrassed by what happened tonight," Detroit Coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We did not get the effort we expected, and that was disturbing. We knew we were going to have to win road games to win the East this year -- now we will have to do it twice in one series."

The game was played at Joe Louis Arena, home of the NHL's Red Wings, because of a scheduling conflict at the Palace of Auburn Hills. It was the fourth arena the teams have played in this season, joining the Palace, Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. The Liberty had to have a second home building because of the Republican convention being held in Madison Square Garden.

"I don't think that's a big deal," New York Coach Pat Coyle said of the different venues. "A basketball court is a basketball court -- once the game starts, you don't care where it is."

Detroit was without Olympian Swin Cash, who will miss the postseason; she tore a knee ligament on Sept. 11 in Phoenix.

Robinson added 15 points and Hammon had 13 for New York.