Powell powers Monarchs in Game 1 win

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- All we needed was a bouncier floor and an appearance by the recently NCAA-chastened dancing Tree on Wednesday, and I might have thought I was in Stanford's Maples Pavilion.

OK, not really, but … there were some classic Nicole Powell moments in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. Such as her spinning, leaning baseline jumper with 2 minutes, 15 seconds left in the third quarter. Powell drew the foul and converted the three-point play, putting Sacramento up by 20.

There was never much of a feeling in the second half that the Monarchs might somehow lose their big lead. But, still, that play by Powell was almost the "hammer" for this night, the moment when you knew Detroit really didn't have any chance at rallying.

"It was," Powell said. "They'd made a little push. You know, with the 24-second shot clock, teams can come back. And they have shooters out there who can score points quickly.

"We wanted to keep control of the game, and after that play, I was fired up. My teammates were, too."

(OK, just as an aside … the Division I women's basketball committee reprimanded and fined Stanford last week because of the Tree's "antics" during the NCAA Tournament in March. The Tree refused to leave the floor at
halftime during one game, or something like that. And, of course, the whole Stanford "pep squad" has royally ticked off the NCAA with various transgressions by its brainiac participants.

Chair Joni Comstock said, "The committee was very disappointed in this disturbing pattern of behavior, and strongly believes that these acts compromised the integrity of the championship." … OK, you can stop guffawing now. Were I in my snarfy, smart-aleck post-selection-show mood, I might say that nothing has compromised the tournament's integrity more than some of the committee's bracketing decisions of recent years. And folks who actually could be "disturbed" by that goofy Tree are in dire need of humor-replacement therapy. I could say all that … but, hey, I'm trying to reform. Back to the WNBA …)

Sacramento won 95-71 and, obviously, was very strong offensively.

"They got something rolling on the inside, and you want to help (on defense)," Detroit's Swin Cash said. "But as soon as you do that, they have the shooters. And that was the toughest thing for us. Once their post game gets solidified, you want to help too much. We just have to be smarter and get a little tougher."

The Shock certainly can do that. But even if Detroit's defense improves for Game 2, it still has to deal with the Monarchs' defense.

"That's our bread-and-butter," Powell said. "We don't normally score 90 points; I'm sure everybody knows that. Our offense has started to come together and give us some good stuff, but it all starts on defense.

"When you keep a team from scoring and getting O-boards, you can get your break going. That's really what we count on."

Powell, in her third season in the WNBA and second in Sacramento, had 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, four assists and three rebounds. It wasn't quite like some of the gaudy stat lines she used to have at Stanford -- those 30-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist, eight-steal nights.

But, of course, that was college where she was Ms. Everything/All the Time for Stanford. Often because she had to be, but sometimes because she didn't know any other way to play. After a difficult and disappointing first pro season in Charlotte, she went back to the West Coast and was the league's most improved player last year as the Monarchs won the WNBA title.

Now in the 2006 playoffs, she has been a big reason why Sacramento is 5-0 in the postseason. She has shot 56.8 percent overall from the field (25-for-44) and 50 percent (12-for-24) from 3-point range. She's averaging 13.0 points in the postseason.

Powell and the Monarchs were particularly pleased that once they had the Shock down, they didn't let up.

"We've been able to do that, and that's what's been the difference for us in the playoffs vs. the regular season," she said. "In the regular season, sometimes we would have a lead, and the other team would come back on us. It's a tribute
to everyone being focused and having great leadership."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.