Got a home opener? Invite the Utah Starzz.
It worked Friday night for the expansion Washington Mystics, who got their first franchise win in their first home game before a WNBA-record crowd of 20,674 by beating Utah 85-76.The New York Liberty will try to duplicate that today at 2 p.m. MDT in Madison Square Garden.
The Liberty, who opened the 1997 season 7-0 and made it to the WNBA Championship game before falling to Houston, have been a far different team in '98. They lost their first three games, including a 71-60 on Monday in Utah. They beat Sacramento Thursday, then lost at Los Angeles on Friday, 78-75. The Sparks' Lisa Leslie set a WNBA record with 21 rebounds, in-cluding 17 in the first half.
The Liberty know all about being somebody's home-opening foil. They have been gracious losing visitors three times already in '98, losing to Cleveland, Houston and L.A.
That makes the former championship contenders 1-4 as they prepare to face the 2-2 Starzz, who led by as many as 22 in Monday's win over the Liberty.
Utah's 7-foot-2 Margo Dydek was more aggressive that night than in any game, regular-season or exhibition, or in any practice so far. Calling for the ball and fighting for position, which she failed to do Friday at Washington (six points, two blocks, one rebound), she scored 12 and got 13 rebounds with three blocked shots against New York. She altered too many shots to count.
Elena Baranova, 6-5, also had a strong game with 14 points and 10 boards Monday. She duplicated those totals Friday at Washington but got no support from Dydek, though rookie Olympia Scott had 15 points. Monday vs. New York, Tammi Reiss had 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting.
New York's Vickie Johnson, who scored 18 Friday at L.A., had 19 at Utah. Rebecca Lobo (17 at L.A.) had six points, six boards, one block at Utah as the Starzz' inside game with Dydek, Baranova and Scott dominated.
Forward Wendy Palmer and guard Chantel Tremitiere, out for a week each with a broken toe and torn calf muscle, each returned to action Friday at Washington. Tre-mi-ti-ere is anxious to play well today because many friends and family will attend, coming from home in Pennsylvania.
The Starzz end their first road trip of the season Monday at Cleveland in a game scheduled to be televised by ESPN. It will be the second and last national TV appearance this season, though KJZZ-Ch. 14 will do some games locally.