BY DONNA TOMMELLEO
The Associated Press
UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The Detroit Shock clinched their second trip to the WNBA finals in dominating fashion.
Swin Cash and Katie Smith led the Shock with 16 points each in 79-55 rout Sunday night over the Connecticut Sun for the Eastern Conference title and their first trip back to the league finals since winning the championship in 2003.
They’ll take on defending WNBA champion Sacramento in a best-of-five series beginning Wednesday.
Much like the 2003 title team, coach Bill Laimbeer’s squad rolled through these playoffs with a dominating inside game, anchored by the Cheryl Ford, the league’s leading rebounder.
Ford finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. She was mobbed by her teammates after her block of a jumper Taj McWilliams-Franklin closed out the third quarter.
It was that kind of night for Detroit.
As for Connecticut, the two-time defending conference champs shot just 30 percent, were confounded by the Shock defense and outscored 42-16 in the paint.
Since 2003, Laimbeer has added prolific scorer Katie Smith and athletic forward Kara Braxton, both picked up last season, to complement Ford, Swin Cash, Ruth Riley and the speedy Deanna Nolan.
The Sun, who had the best record of any Eastern Conference team the past two years were denied their third straight trip to the championship round. Their 52 regular-season wins in 2005-06 set a record.
The Sun were beating just about everyone this year. Except Detroit, that is. The Shock won five of six meetings this season. Connecticut’s lone victory came Saturday, a 77-68 win that extended the series one more game.
Detroit took the suspense out of this one early and led by as many as 25 points down stretch. For the second straight night, Connecticut started Katie Douglas, the MVP of the All-Star game, who played with a hairline fracture in her right foot. She provided an emotional lift in Game 2, but the Sun were unable to match Detroit’s intensity in the elimination game. Douglas finished 3-for-10 Sunday for nine points.
McWilliams-Franklin led Connecticut with 12 points and Lindsay Whalen added 10. Margo Dydek had nine rebounds and three blocked shots for the Sun.
Cash had six points in a 10-2 run midway through the first quarter to give Detroit its first bit of breathing room and a 16-9 lead. The Shock shot 55 percent in the first half and led by as many as 11 points down the stretch.
Braxton gave the Shock a lift off the bench early. Most of her 10 first-half points were on second chances and she played just 8:29 in the first 20 minutes. She finished with 12 points.
Douglas pulled Connecticut within five with a 3-pointer with 6:20 left in the half to cut the lead to 32-27. But Braxton countered with three straight inside buckets and the Shock led 46-37 at the break.
Detroit opened the second half with a 6-0 run and gradually pulled away.