At least this year, The Hump is sometimes in sight.

The Utah Starzz just don't know how to get over it yet.Tied at 70, down by three with 3:13 left Thursday night in the Delta Center against the hottest team in the WNBA, Charlotte's Sting, the Starzz lost by eight, 91-83.

"We've got to be able to execute in crunch time, and that's a gap we've got to close," said Starzz coach Denise Taylor, who watched helplessly as her team, told to foul in the last minute to get the ball back, couldn't even get to someone to hack for a precious 20 or more seconds.

"We're playing hard for 40 minutes, but we're not playing smart," said Taylor.

Starzz guard Tammi Reiss said Utah allowed two late back-breaking 3-point shots, couldn't rebound for three of the final 31/2 minutes and simply didn't have the mental toughness necessary.

"We had the desire to win but couldn't finish. We started rushing the ball, and we lost the advantage and began to lose the rebounds," said forward Elena Baranova, who added Utah needed to make some long shots to open things underneath.

"We just dug deep to find the energy. We had that will to win tonight," said Sting coach Marynell Meadors, adding, "We were tired before we took the court."

Charlotte, which won in Los Angeles Wednesday night and at Phoenix Sunday, goes home with a perfect 3-0 road trip, a four-game win streak and a league-best 6-1 record.

The 2-5 Starzz made their free throws (10 of 11), cut their turnovers , outrebounded the Sting (34-29), had more assists (21-19), more blocked shots (9-2), more points in the paint (48-30), more second-chance points (19-12). They got another career-best game from 7-foot-2 Margo Dydek (21 points, 10-for-14 shooting, nine rebounds, five blocked shots and just two fouls) and got another Baranova double-double (16 points, 13 rebounds).

The Sting got scoreboard.

Andrea Stinson scored a season-high 25 points, Vicky Bullett had 20, Tracy Reid 18 and rookie point guard Christy Smith poured in an unexpected 14. Smith made four of six 3-point attempts after being 1-for-9 for the season on bombs. "I guess I was feeling it," said Smith, who'd totaled only 11 points in her first six games.

"I thought we played a heckuva game. Unfortunately, what counts is on the scoreboard, not on the stat sheet," said Taylor, whose fortified team is still on the same pace it had last year (it went to 2-7 before winning a third time), when the Starzz were 7-21 and the WNBA's worst team.

"They're a much-improved team," said Meadors, noting the whole league is better.

Utah moves on to play tonight at 8 MDT at 4-1 Phoenix, which on Wednesday handed defending WNBA champion Houston its first loss. The Starzz host 5-1 Houston Tuesday.

When Kim Williams got a pick from Chantel Tremitiere and nailed a 12-foot shot and Dydek deflected a Reid jumper, the Starzz were still scrapping at 78-75. Bullett rebounded Reid's miss and hit Tora Suber for a 3-pointer that started to break Utah at 81-75. Dydek made a baseline layup and rebounded a Bullett miss with 2 1/2 minutes left, and Utah could have cut the lead to two.

Bullett, however, blocked a Williams shot. Williams got it back, missed again, then stole from Bullett, but Baranova missed a layup. Suber hit another three. The Starzz were down seven, and, after a timeout with 1:15 left, they couldn't race around Charlotte's spread offense fast enough to foul. Reiss said Charlotte pulled Dydek up high, making for longer passing lanes.

"This loss really hurts," said Reiss. "We are in the game, and in the last five minutes, we have some breakdowns." But, she added, "We learn from tonight's game, and we move on."

Dydek felt more useful Thursday than she had on the recent three-game road trip, where she was called for fouls every time she looked at an opponent. She said her 10-for-14 shooting "was OK. When we win the game, it will be all right," she said, "but we're still losing."

Dydek, however, said she was "really surprised" at being able to avoid fouls. "It's different when we play at home. I feel like I can play my game again," she said, adding she still held back a bit defensively. "I was a little bit, like, afraid," she said.

Taylor said that the presence of WNBA supervisor of officials Dee Kantner may have helped. She'd complained to Kantner last weekend on the eastern road trip.