Being the WNBA's best team in the regular season, including three victories over Houston, didn't get the Los Angeles Sparks where they wanted to go.
Instead, the Comets advanced to their fourth consecutive WNBA finals Sunday with a 74-69 victory over the Sparks, whose 28-4 regular-season record led the league.
"We stepped it up a level and we were able to beat a very good team on their home court," said Cynthia Cooper, who scored 29 points. "It was a tough game. We were felt we were underdogs."
That's a role the Comets have rarely played during their four years in the WNBA. They've won three league championships and will go for a fourth beginning Thursday against either the New York Liberty or Cleveland Rockers, whose Eastern Conference finals series is tied 1-1. Game 3 is Monday night.
"Hopefully, they'll beat up on each other," said Houston's Sheryl Swoopes, who was held to eight points after being sick before the game.
Playing one year and one day after her teammate and close friend Kim Perrot died of cancer, Cooper rallied the Comets to a 2-0 series victory after winning Game 1 by 21 points in Houston.
"This was a huge win for us," Swoopes said. "I don't think we thought about what happened in the regular season. We felt we could beat them in the playoffs."
Swoopes began vomiting after arriving at the Forum, then got dizzy and had a headache.
"There was never a question I wasn't going to be out there," she said.
Janeth Arcain added 18 points for the Comets, including their final five. Her running jumper snapped a 69-all tie with 39 seconds remaining. She then made three of four free throws to close out the game.
"Arcain is a star in Brazil and comes here and plays any role she has to," Cooper said.
Mwadi Mabika led the Sparks with 19 points and Tamecka Dixon added 17, while Lisa Leslie had 12 points and 14 rebounds.
"I loved our effort," said Sparks coach Michael Cooper, who was honored as WNBA coach of the year before the game. "There were some things that we could have done, some shots that didn't go in that normally fall, but that's the way it goes."
In their deathly quiet locker room, several Sparks players covered their heads with their hands. Houston coach Van Chancellor dropped in and silently shook hands with the Sparks.
"We feel like we did a great job this year and we just really lost to a very good team," Leslie said. "We followed what we needed to for Sheryl and Cynthia to distribute the ball to other players and the other players played well. They took shots they normally don't take and made shots they normally don't make."
Until the final seconds, neither team led by more than four points in the second half of a game played in front of 13,884 raucous fans at the Forum.
"Their fans showed up and tried to make a difference and almost did,"> Chancellor said. "This is a great win for us, especially after they won all three games. That's the happiest I've seen them in the locker room. I don't know if they were that happy after we won the championship."
Trailing by four points, the Comets scored seven straight points to take a 67-64 lead with 3:42 remaining. Swoopes hit a 3-pointer only her third basket of the game Tammy Jackson scored inside and Cooper scored on a fastbreak driving layup.
Dixon hit her second straight 3-pointer to tie the game at 67. Cooper had a behind-the-back pass stolen by Dixon, who then missed. Cooper scored easily when the Sparks were slow getting back on defense for a 69-67 lead. Allison Feaster tied the game once more, but the Sparks didn't score in the final minute.
©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.