There was much for Utah to feel good about in its first 1998 exhibition WNBA game Tuesday night at America West Arena - Wendy Palmer (17 points) and Margo Dydek (13 points, 6-for-9 shooting, six rebounds, two blocks) among them.
But a couple of the Starzz' losing habits from last year's last-place finish rose up and bit them at the end as the Phoenix Mercury, a play-off team last year, outscored Utah 17-2 over the final 61/2 minutes - thanks to six of Utah's 26 turnovers for the night - to beat the Starzz 74-66.Phoenix was minus five rostered players who are participating in the world championships in Germany. Utah was minus Russian cen-ter Elena Baranova.
A crowd of 11,348 was treated to a playoff-like atmosphere as coaches Denise Taylor of the Starzz and Cheryl Miller of the Mercury pulled out all stops. Mil-ler drew a technical foul, and Taylor played only 11 of the 16 on her roster, going mainly with her top eight or nine when she'd said she would give everyone a look.
"It's a matter of gaining respect early in the season," said Phoenix center Jennifer Gillom, the scoring leader with 22 points on 10-for-10 free throwing.
"It got a little out of hand. We didn't expect Utah to come out as physical as they did," Gillom said in a KFNZ-AM1320 radio in-ter-view.
"The second half," said Taylor, "we didn't execute down the stretch. Phoenix got a bit more aggressive, and usually the aggressive team is the one that prevails. It was very intense, and I think we left something on this team tonight."
"I liked what I saw," she said. "We had 26 turnovers, and those are some things that we can correct, and we will correct. But I liked our intensity, our heart and our competitiveness, and so I'm very optimistic.
"I thought tonight was a real learning experience for us, and we'll go back and regroup and get ready for Saturday," Taylor said of the exhibition rematch, when the same teams will meet starting at 7 p.m. in the Delta Center.
Thursday at the Delta Center, 6-7:30 p.m., the Starzz will hold a public-invited practice. Those who attend will get a free ticket for Saturday's game.
Utah led most of Tuesday's game. The 7-foot-2, No. 1 draft choice in the WNBA, Dydek, of Poland, got the first rebound of the game and two of Utah's first three baskets, and the Starzz moved ahead 26-14. "Margo was a big factor for us," said Taylor at halftime, when Utah led 36-33. Palmer scored 11 in the first half. "Wendy has taken her game to another level."
The Starzz were up 64-57 with an 8-0 run keyed by Miller's technical, giving Dydek a free throw, and by a 3-pointer, layup, steal and assist by Tammi Reiss (eight points).
Then the Starzz made more than a turnover-a-minute to close the game, letting Phoenix get another of those big scoring runs that the Mercury used last year to beat Utah three of four times. Utah put Phoenix at the free-throw line 36 times (28 made) while the Starzz shot only eight (six made), but it outshot Phoenix 53-43 percent from the field.
Dydek didn't attempt a dunk - she will likely become the first to dunk in a North American pro women's game - but she was impressive.
"I didn't expect her to be this good," said Gillom. "I played her two years ago (in Europe), and she was nothing like this. The big girl, she's agile, she can shoot from outside and inside. She can do it all," said Gillom. "I'm really impressed."