Cheryl Miller, wearing her coaching-trademark tie and suspenders, was dancing on the Utah Starzz's grave Friday night in a rockin' America West Arena.
Miller's Phoenix Mercury made Utah see Starzz all night, handing the worst WNBA team ever its worst-ever loss, 96-63. The 33-point deficit is one more than what Utah lost by in Phoenix on Aug. 6, 1997. That one was a more civil 32-point loss, 78-46, by a team that went on to a 7-21 record, worst in the WNBA's first season.
"We aren't going to panic when we are down by 20 and playing our hearts out," Starzz coach Denise Taylor said. "Once our team gets to know each other and starts to jell, we're going to be a good team. We're not going to be an overnight miracle coming from 7-21, but we are a new team."
Utah has now lost five straight in 1998 and has the same record it did after eight games in 1997, 2-6. The Starzz remain a step ahead of Sacramento, which also lost Friday night and is 1-5, for the last spot in the Western Conference. The Mercury improved to 5-1 to share the Western lead with Houston.
Including two '98 preseason games, Phoenix is 5-1 all-time against Utah. The 96 points is a Mercury scoring record.
With Phoenix sitting around since Wednesday, when it handed defending WNBA champion Houston its first loss of the season, the Mercury had plenty of time to draw up a game plan for the Starzz. Utah, meanwhile, was traveling at 6 a.m. Friday, only hours after another disappointing loss, this one at home to the Charlotte Sting, 91-83. That was a game the Starzz thought they might have won with better play in a few spots.
After Utah led 10-4, there was little thought of the Starzz winning this one. Phoenix ran past them like that guy with wings on his feet who shares their nickname and is supposed to be the messenger forthe universe.
The Mercury outscored Utah 8-2 for a 12-12 tie and never trailed again, scoring in clumps and pouring it on at the end with 3-point shots and undefended layins.
"I'm not going to make any excuses. We played a very good team tonight. We came out and made some errors, but they were a strong team," Taylor said.
Bulky Jennifer Gillom did the most damage, scoring 19 points on 7-for-16 shooting. Michelle Griffiths added 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting, and Marlies Askamp topped Mercury rebounders with eight.
For Utah, Elena Baranova made five of her eight shots and scored 12 points to go with her game- high nine rebounds. Fran Harris contributed nine points on 4-for-8 shooting. Margo Dydek was 2-for-6 shooting and had eight points and seven rebounds.
It gets no easier for the slumping Starzz. Houston comes to the Delta Center Tuesday.
"We're professionals, so we're going to come out strong against Houston at home on Tuesday. We have players with a lot of heart, and we are going to play hard," Taylor said.