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Cooper: It Only Gets Tougher for Sparks

September 04, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

As the Sparks prepared to leave Los Angeles on Wednesday for Sacramento, Coach Michael Cooper had this critical message for his team:

If you thought getting past Minnesota in the first round of the WNBA playoffs was tough, defeating the Monarchs in the Western Conference finals will be twice as difficult.

And, don't expect to see the same team the Sparks defeated in the 2001 conference finals on their way to the first of two league championships.

"They are a different team with a different attitude about themselves -- and so are we," Cooper said. "Being two-time champions, we have a right to feel comfortable and confident. But I don't think that is something we can carry into this series."

Sacramento, after replacing Maura McHugh as coach with John Whisenant, rebounded from a 7-11 start to finish the regular season 19-15 and grab third place in the West. The Monarchs went on to defeat Houston in the first round, two games to one, and play host to the Sparks in the opener of the conference finals on Friday.

"We definitely won't take them lightly," Spark guard Sophia Witherspoon said. "They are very aggressive and they play very well together. To beat Houston the way they did on Tuesday I'm sure has given them some confidence."

In the 2001 conference finals, Los Angeles won the first game in Sacramento, lost the second game at home, but won the third game at home. Both teams have several players who participated in that series, and there is a rivalry between the teams and the towns that bears a resemblance to the one between the Lakers and the Kings of the NBA.

Except for the trash-talking.

"At this point we've all been able to maintain level heads in that area," Spark star Lisa Leslie said. "As far as the competitive nature between Sacramento and L.A., their fans chant 'Beat L.A.' when we're not even there ... but we try and let our games speak for themselves."

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