SEATTLE -- Nykesha Sales smiled when someone suggested the Connecticut Sun could add a WNBA title to this year's NCAA championships won by the UConn men's and women's teams.
"This is going to be really good for the state," she said yesterday. "It's the basketball capital of the world."
Not so fast.
Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm can claim the city's first professional sports title in 25 years in what should be an exciting Game 3 of the WNBA Finals tonight.
"The emotional swings get a little higher. Every possession gets magnified a little bit," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said.
The Storm are going for the first title by a Seattle team since the SuperSonics won the 1979 NBA championship. They have big stars in Jackson and Bird, but the outcome will likely be decided by a less-heralded teammate: Betty Lennox.
Jackson has complained about physical play under the basket, where she's faced double- and even triple-teams in the first two games. Lennox stepped in, scoring 16 of her season-high 27 points in the second half of Seattle's 67-65 win in Game 2.
"Betty Lennox is the X-factor," Sales said. "We've done a pretty good job defensively on Lauren and a really good job on Sue. I think Betty's eyes lit up a little when she saw that."
The title will go to whichever team defends better, whether it's Connecticut trying to deny Jackson inside and limit Lennox's baseline jumpers or Seattle trying to reel in Sales, whose 32 points in Game 2 were a Finals record.
Sales missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have ended it. Still, she shot 14 of 22 from the floor, and her 14 field goals and 21 second-half points also were Finals records.
"Nykesha Sales just caught fire," said Bird.