Monarchy 

WNBA hoops it up

SAT 7/26

WNBA teams hit their stride later in the summer season -- extended this year to 34 games, still relatively short for a professional sports league. Many top players arrive late to training camp because of pro commitments overseas; thus teams are often just beginning to jell as they head towards mid-September playoffs, a showcase for some of the best women's basketball in the world. After contract negotiations that threatened to cancel the WNBA's sixth season were settled in the final hour, the Sacramento Monarchs were an early favorite to give back-to-back WNBA champs the Los Angeles Sparks a challenge this year. But a disappointing start led to the firing of their head coach in early July. Since then, three wins and a narrow loss to Houston have improved their record to 10-12 -- fifth in the Western conference.

The Monarchs have a Magic-Johnson-like point guard in Ticha Penicheiro, who hails from Portugal and says about her passing, "I love to be fancy." Penicheiro's amazing no-look tosses have given her the team moniker of "assist queen," almost an official title since she leads the WNBA in assists for five years running. Yolanda Griffith, Sacramento's only All-Star game selection this year, is one of those overlooked college players who've blossomed in the WNBA. She's a fierce and physical forward averaging a consistent 15.8 points, 8.4 rebounds per game. Backing up Penicheiro and Griffith are Tangela Smith along with veterans Ruthie Bolton (Olympic gold medallist, 1996 and 2000) and Edna Campbell.

This Saturday at 7 p.m., Sacramento takes on the Seattle Storm (11-8, third in the West) -- a team they've split two prior meetings with this year. Seattle's stars are Sue Bird (UConn '02), the NCAA player of the year and No. 1 draft pick in 2002, and Lauren Jackson, the young Australian star center who is having a "monster year" -- currently leading the league in scoring with 19.8 points per game. Other good reasons to make the hour-and-a-half drive to the Arco Arena include the July 31 game vs. Los Angeles (currently No. 1 in the conference, whom Sacramento narrowly beat at their last meeting in June) and August 9 vs. Minnesota, the winner of which could determine the last playoff spot in the West. Tickets start at $14.50 at Ticketmaster.com or 415-421-TIXS. Selected Monarchs games are also broadcast on ESPN2.

For more information, visit SacramentoMonarchs.com -- Annika Dukes

7/23-9/1

BYOP

Bring your own puck

Summertime is for swimming, biking, hiking, baseball, and hoops, but some guys (and gals) can't get the ice out of their heads. That's why the Oakland Ice Center's pick-up hockey series was born, for dedicated slap-shooters and hip-checkers to cross the blue line five days a week, if necessary -- whenever the mood strikes you. Games are played Monday through Friday at odd hours, and cost $11 per session, but goalies play free. Helmets and pads are required. Bring your own puck. 519 18th St., Oakland. 510-268-9000 or OaklandIce.com -- Kelly Vance

WED 7/23

The Romans Are Coming!

SS Lazio finished fourth in Italy's Serie A last season with the help of such international soccer football superstars as Argentina's Diego Simeone, Holland's Jaap Stam, and Italian homeboys Stefano Fiore, Simone Inzaghi, and Dino Baggio. Never mind that the Roman club's supporters have a reputation in Europe as fascist thugs. Mexico's Club America, on the other hand, boasts World Cup standouts Cuauhtémoc Blanco (right) and Germàn Villa plus Uruguayan Sebastiàn "Loco" Abreu, under the leadership of head coach Leo Beenhakker of Holland. The two clubs meet tonight (8 p.m.) at San Jose's Spartan Stadium, in what should be a classic European-American confrontation. Tickets from www.sjearthquakes.com -- Kelly Vance

TUE 7/29

Tribal Remedy?

After suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous AL Central teams and the Mariners, plus the simian antics of the Angels on their twelve-game post-All-Star-Game road trip, the A's finally get to relax Tuesday night (7:05), when -- uh-oh! It's those pesky Cleveland Indians followed by the unbearably smug New York Yankees. Our local nine will need every bit of their composure against Chief Wahoo and his tribe, who play a three-game series before the Bronx Bummers visit over the next weekend. Oaklandathletics.com -- Kelly Vance

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