The last time these teams met, June 30, the lowly Utah Starzz took the Houston Comets into double overtime in the Delta Center before falling 75-73.

Other than 12-1 Houston's single loss to Phoenix on June 24, 69-66, that's the closest any WNBA team has come to the defending WNBA champions this season. By far.The next-closest Houston games were 11-point wins over New York, Sacramento and Los Angeles. They won their last two games by 30 and 25 points. Since playing at Utah, they have won four games by an average of 21.5 points.

Ah, but the date today is 7-11.

And the Comets are on a seven-game win streak.

So maybe there will be a little luck involved for a Utah team that desperately needs it for a 6:30 p.m. MDT start at the Compaq Center.

The 4-9 Starzz are 2-2 since the last Houston game, but they will likely play tonight without 6-foot-5 Elena Baranova, who leads Utah in points (13.9), rebounds (10.3), assists (3.6), free-throw shooting percentage (.837) and minutes (34.3). She was Utah's top rebounder in every game but one, when 7-foot-2 Margo Dydek had 13. Baranova has acute tendinitis in her left Achilles and is expected to be out another week.

The only game she's missed so far was Wednesday's, in which 1997 All-WNBA second-teamer Wendy Palmer returned to form (team-record 30 points plus a game-high eight rebounds in a 77-69 loss that was a one-point game with 2:15 left). Palmer had been recovering slowly from breaking a toe in the first week of training camp.

Utah may also be without guard Tammi Reiss (9.3 ppg, 2.9 apg), who leads the team in 3-point percentage (.342). She sprained an ankle in Monday's win over Sac-ra-mento and, on Wednesday, it was hoped she'd be out only two or three more days. Also, starting point guard Chantel Tremitiere suffered most of the week with a stomach ailment and was ineffective in 18 minutes Wednesday.

Houston is packed with talent. Cynthia Cooper, last year's WNBA MVP, again leads league scoring (23.7), while Sheryl Swoopes is sixth in the league at 15.8 and rugged Tina Thompson 16th at 13.2. Guard Kim Perrot had a career-high 22 to lead Houston to its biggest-ever win Thursday, 96-66 at Compaq Center over the expansion Detroit Shock (6-7).

"They have so many weapons," said Detroit coach Nancy Lie-ber-man-Cline. "We had 14 turnovers and didn't play terribly."

That's not good news for Utah, which lost Wednesday by making five turnovers in the last three minutes and had 20 overall.

It's a one-game trip for the Starzz, who host Detroit Monday in the Delta Center before taking a four-game, 11-day trip through the Eastern Conference.