AUBURN HILLS, MICH. Cheryl Ford led the Detroit Shock back to the WNBA finals with a tenacious style that is reminiscent of her dad, 14-time NBA All-Star Karl Malone.
That is all well and good, but Ford is not fond of such comparisons.
"Like I said before, I'm just trying to do my own thing, make my own name," Ford said Tuesday after practice at The Palace.
The Shock will face the defending champion Sacramento Monarchs in the best-of-five finals that begin tonight.
Malone sat courtside and watched his daughter help Detroit win the WNBA title three years ago, during her rookie season. He covered his eyes as the power forward sank four key free throws in the final minute of the decisive third game against Los Angeles, then embraced her when it was over.
With all the numbers and accolades Malone garnered during his career, Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said Ford can be even better than her father.
"Cheryl Ford arguably has been our most valuable player all year long. Her rebounding has been so consistent, she leads the league in rebounding," Laimbeer said. "Her inside presence, being able to score, has been more than we expected this year."
Much like the 2003 title team, Laimbeer's squad rolled through these playoffs with a dominating inside game, anchored by Ford. She is also averaging 11.8 rebounds in the playoffs.
"She's a beast," said teammate Katie Smith, an All-Star guard. "The sky is the limit for her. It's fun to be on the floor with somebody who competes, especially rebounding. You don't have to worry about the rebounding too much because she can corral most of those."
But standout forward Swin Cash knows Ford can't do it alone.
"It's going to be up to our guards, myself and Ruth (Riley) to really help Cheryl and not have her getting 30 rebounds and us getting like one or two," she said. "We have to collectively rebound as a group."
Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith said dominating the glass would be key to controlling the series.
"I guess whoever outrebounds the other is the one who is going to win," Griffith said. "It's going to be a dogfight."
Sacramento hasn't lost a game in these playoffs, eliminating Houston and Los Angeles.
"We have to be mentally tough," Ford said. "If we let them knock us off focus, then boy we're in for a long series."
The Shock and Monarchs split the two-game, regular-season series. Each team won on its home floor.
After winning the title in 2003, Detroit looked poised to become a perennial powerhouse, but the Shock went 33-35 over the next two years and lost in the first round of the playoffs both seasons.