Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Smith leads Shock into finals

By Mel Greenberg

August 29, 2006

Katie Smith has said that she would not mind going into dentistry after her women's basketball career is over.

Drilling teeth may be in her future, but these days Smith is drilling shots for the Detroit Shock, a key reason that coach Bill Laimbeer's squad has advanced to the WNBA Finals for the first time since winning the title in 2003.

The Shock will open the best-of-five Finals against the defending champion Sacramento Monarchs on Wednesday night at 7:30 (ESPN2) at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Sacramento dispatched the Los Angeles Sparks in a two-game sweep in the Western Conference finals. Detroit eliminated the Connecticut Sun, the team with the best overall record, by dominating Sunday's decisive third game, 79-55, for the Eastern Conference crown.

"You look at position by position, and Detroit seems to have such an advantage," said Hall of Famer Ann Meyers, who will provide commentary for some of the games on ESPN Radio. "But Sacramento plays with such heart."

Smith and Sacramento center Yolanda Griffith will be on opposing sides in a pro women's basketball championship for the first time since the two played in the former American Basketball League.

In 1998, Smith's Columbus Quest beat Griffith's Long Beach StingRays in the ABL finals.

A five-time WNBA all-star, Smith is the all-time leading scorer in women's professional basketball in the United States with 5,558 points, including 1,431 in the ABL.

By reaching the WNBA Finals, Smith, 32, joins the recently retired Dawn Staley of the Houston Comets in a unique category.

Smith and Staley, who also coaches Temple, are the only two to compete in an ABL championship series and a WNBA title series, win Olympic gold medals, and play in an NCAA title game.

Smith won't be done after the WNBA series. She'll catch up with the USA Basketball senior national women's team that will compete early next month in the FIBA world championship in Brazil.

Both the Monarchs and the Shock had questions coming into the season. Detroit center Ruth Riley, the former Notre Dame star and MVP of the 2003 Finals, had sought a trade before agreeing to return to the Shock.

Laimbeer moved Smith to point guard, where she proved helpful in running the squad as well as being deadly on the perimeter.

Former Connecticut star Swin Cash, who scored 16 points to match Smith in Sunday's win, finally recovered from a knee injury suffered late in the 2004 season.

Sacramento suffered several injuries and had to deal with the loss of defender Chelsea Newton, a top rookie out of Rutgers a year ago who was taken by the Chicago Sky in the expansion draft.

Erin Buescher of the Monarchs was named the WNBA's most improved player.

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