Taj McWilliams-Franklin scored 24 points as the Connecticut Sun beat the host Indiana Fever, 73-68, last night to open the WNBA's Eastern Conference finals.

Katie Douglas hit an off-balance bank shot from 23 feet as the shot clock expired with 30 seconds remaining to give the Sun a six-point lead. Connecticut will host the final two games of the series beginning tomorrow.

Kelly Miller led Indiana with 14 points. . . .

Yolanda Griffith scored 14 points, and Kara Lawson added 12 to lead the visiting Sacramento Monarchs to a 73-69 overtime victory over the Houston Comets in the opening game of the Western Conference finals. Nicole Powell forced overtime by hitting a desperation three-pointer with four seconds left in the regulation. . . .

Former Maryland star Lonny Baxter has signed a one-year contract with the Houston Rockets, according to Baxter's agents, Jeff Fried and Nate Peake.

The 6-foot-8 Silver Spring native is entering his fourth NBA season after being selected in the second round by the Chicago Bulls in the 2002 draft. Baxter has appeared in 121 games with Chicago, Toronto, Washington and New Orleans and has posted career averages of 4.3 points and 3.0 rebounds. . . .

All-stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire and Dwyane Wade are scheduled to play in an NBA Players Hurricane Relief Game organized by TNT analyst Kenny Smith. The game will be played Sunday at 6 p.m. at Toyota Center in Columbia, S.C., and will be televised by TNT at 11 p.m.

* MOTOR SPORTS: A third restart worked for Mark Martin, and he edged out Kurt Busch to win the International Race of Champions event at Richmond International Raceway.

Busch, the reigning NASCAR Nextel Cup champion and a teammate to Martin in that series, appeared on the way to an easy victory in the 90-lap race. He took the lead on the third lap on the three-quarter-mile oval and stayed out front nearly to the end.

But it was Martin, a four-time IROC champion, who wound up beating Busch in a two-lap shootout after the last of six caution flags in the race. Martin won by just 0.021 of a second -- less than two feet -- in the race for identically prepared IROC Pontiacs.

* HOCKEY: The Washington Capitals named Dave Draper to their pro scouting staff. Draper has more than 35 years of hockey management experience, including four seasons with Phoenix and nine years with Colorado. . . .

Veteran Sabres defenseman James Patrick, who spent 21 years in the NHL, retired and accepted an assistant coaching position with the team.

* COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Recently retired Marshall coach Bob Pruett has dropped out of the Harris Interactive College Football Poll because of his affiliation with ESPN, and will be replaced by former SMU player Bobby Leach.

* GOLF: The PGA Tour moved the Southern Farm Bureau Classic tournament in Madison, Miss., back a month to Nov. 3-6 because of damage in the region by Hurricane Katrina. The tournament originally was scheduled for Oct. 6-9.

* OLYMPICS: The Brazilian runner who was grabbed by a spectator while leading the Olympic marathon lost his bid to be awarded a duplicate gold medal.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected Vanderlei de Lima's appeal, saying it couldn't change the result of the 2004 Athens race unless there was evidence of "bad faith or arbitrariness."

* COLLEGE SOCCER: The women's team at Oneonta State College in upstate New York has set an NCAA record. The Division III school beat SUNY Institute of Technology, 10-0, on Wednesday -- its 73rd straight conference game without a loss.

-- From News Services

and Staff Reports

Indiana's Tamika Catchings looks for a way around Connecticut's Taj McWilliams-Franklin in the WNBA playoffs.