Somewhere between the time Monday when she said all 16 of her players would get into the game and the time Tuesday when her Utah Starzz stepped onto the America West Arena court before 11,000 Mercury fans in Phoenix, coach Denise Taylor learned something about herself.

After 91/2 months (most of it in the WNBA off-season) without tasting victory, Taylor was suddenly after the jugular. She wanted to win, even if it was a practice game.And after that practice game, Taylor cut Australian forward Samantha Tomlinson and Teresa Hinz, a forward from Colorado State.

Mercury coach Cheryl Miller took up the challenge. Her team - minus five players still active in the FIBA World Championships - out-scored Utah 17-2 in the closing minutes for a 74-66 exhibition win. Counting the end of the 1997 regular season, the Starzz have lost three straight. They were 7-21 and last in the WNBA's first year.

The Phoenix-Utah rematch is tonight at 7:30 in the Delta Center, and Taylor now makes no pretensions of wanting to see everyone on her team perform so she can make the six-player roster trim that's necessary by Wednesday, the day before the WNBA '98 season begins. Utah will host Los Angeles next Thursday in the opener.

But tonight's exhibition will likely be another war like fans in Phoenix saw Tuesday.

Taylor's new team includes No. 1 WNBA draft choice 7-foot-2 Margo Dydek of Poland plus No. 11 draftee Olympia Scott of Stanford and No. 21 draftee LaTonya Johnson of Memphis State, plus Chantel Tremitiere and Fran Harris, acquired in May trades. Asked if she was anxious to show off her new team to Utahns, Taylor shook her head.

"I'm excited about getting some W's and some respect," she blurted, adding Tuesday "was like a playoff game."

"We gave them an eye-opener (Tuesday)," she says, knowing Utah's 26 turnovers have to be cut in half, but the Starzz led most of that game anyway.

Taylor admits to thinking about making playoffs when she wakes up and when she goes to bed, and even an exhibition game is a stepping stone to her. When she goes to Jazz games, she's coaching the Jazz and Bulls in her mind. She takes in the NBA Finals atmosphere, "and I can visualize the Utah Starzz in the playoffs," she says.

"We plan to win," she vows.

Taylor must cut six players on her roster. She can carry 11, and last year's center, 6-5 Elena Bara-nova, is still in the world championships, too, and scheduled to arrive Tuesday. The next day is WNBA cutdown day. Many teams have already made their trims, but this has been a competitive training camp, so trims will be tough. "I don't have them here just to have them here," Taylor says. "They're competitive."

Taylor points with pride to new depth, size and experience for what was the league's youngest, shortest team. But she admits, "Every other team is improved, too."