In looking forward to this second WNBA season, those connected with the Utah Starzz, who finished 7-21 and last in 1997, figured there was nowhere to go but up.
But the failing, flailing Starzz, 4-11, open their longest road trip of the season tonight (5:30 p.m. MDT) at Detroit, and their most realistic hope is that the Shock's 73-60 loss at Phoenix Wednesday took something out of them.Detroit ended a four-game losing streak Monday by shocking the Starzz 74-67 in the Delta Center, then went on to Phoenix and dropped to 7-9 while Utah was trying to conduct one practice with eight players and one coach, took Wednesday off and traveled to Detroit Thursday.
Tammi Reiss was placed on the injured list Thursday because of a severely sprained right ankle. She did not make the trip, but her replacement did. The Starrz added former Los Angeles Sparks guard Erin Alexander to the roster. Elena Baranova (Achilles tendinitis) is still considered day-to-day, assistant coach Fred Williams missed a practice with an illness and Wendy Palmer was to join the team in Detroit after visiting a gravely ill uncle in North Carolina this week. That meant the Starzz got little preparation done.
This four-game, 10-day trip also takes Utah to Washington Sunday afternoon, Charlotte Wednesday and Cleveland July 25. Utah is dangerously close to actually falling behind last year's last-place pace. The Starzz were 4-13 on July 30, 1997, then won two in a row to go to 6-13. But they have won only three road games in history. With a three-game losing streak and four straight road games, they could go to 4-17.
Without Reiss, the Starzz did find last weekend and on Monday that 6-foot LaTonya Johnson is a defensive substitution at the two-guard position. Fran Harris, who has started at the three spot most of the season, was replaced Monday in a lineup including 7-2 Margo Dydek, 6-5 Baranova and 6-2 Palmer at the front line.
Palmer has scored 71 points in her last three games since returning to the starting lineup after being slowed by a broken toe. She scored Utah's final 10 points against Detroit Monday, but the Starzz wound up making the same old crunch-time mistakes. They threw the ball away, balked at taking important shots and failed to rebound or make free throws.
"We're in a position to win. What else can we do? What else do you want us to draw up?" says coach Denise Taylor, noting Utah's had a number of wide-open chances to make critical baskets and tensed up instead.
"We've just got to relax in those situations," she says.
Of Dydek, 24, who is only a defensive player and passer on her European teams, Taylor says, "She's never been a shooter, the go-to person." But she's got a fine shooting touch, and that's what Utah wants her to become. She's not always comfortable with that role.
In Detroit, the Starzz will face the WNBA's No. 1 percentage shooter, 6-8 Razija Mujanovic (.567), a European veteran who flustered Dydek with physical play Monday. Dydek was surprised to see Mujanovic down to about 200 pounds. Dydek said when she'd played Mujanovic in Europe, she was "twice as big."
Dydek tops the league in shots blocked at 3.13 a game and had a league-record five in the first half Monday, six for the game. The Shock went to a hot-shooting guard combo of Sandy Brondello (23 points) and Korie Hlede in Monday's second half to win.