The Utah Starzz lost Elena Baranova, and then they nearly lost a 31 point lead. In the end though, they learned to put points on the board when it counted, and they won a game. A road game.
Sure, it was over the Washington Mystics, the only WNBA team measurably worse than themselves, but the Starzz, known to wilt at the line late in heated games, hit 11 straight free throws and 21 of 24 in the final four minutes Sunday to make their cares for a few days disappear, 99-88.It was the second-highest score in WNBA history, behind only Utah's 102-point game against Los Angeles on June 23, 1997, the Starzz' first-ever win. It was Utah's second road win of 1998 and fourth in history.
Sunday's win at MCI Center breaks a four-game losing streak, makes the Starzz 5-12 for the season, a little ahead of last year's pace, and takes them at least momentarily out of the Western Conference cellar.
"It's easier to click when you're winning by 30," said Utah's Chan-tel Tremitiere.
"It's not going to make our season, but winning is always good." Tremitiere took over the starting point guard role two weeks ago and had season highs of 16 points and five rebounds and tied her season high in assists with six.
Washington, loser of its last three and 11 of its last 12 since beating Utah in the Mystics' first- ever home game one month earlier, threw caution to the wind and mounted The Attack of the Threes with seven minutes left. At one point the Mystics hit six consecutive 3-point shot attempts with two old-fashioned 3-point-play (basket/free throw) conversions tucked into that run that took them from a 73-52 deficit to two eight-point deficits (87-79, 90-82).
With the 3-point barrage, the Mystics scored 63 points in the second half. Utah had a franchise-best 52 in the second half.
But Washington fouled the Starzz on every possession that wasn't a turnover. Utah had no field goal attempts in the final 21/2 minutes. In the final four minutes, Wendy Palmer was 6-for-6 from the line, Kim Williams 6-for-8, Tremitiere 5-for-6 and Margo Dydek 2-for-2 at the line.
Williams missed the last free throw to keep Utah from breaking 100.
"I'd rather they tease me about the missed free throw with the victory than a missed free throw without the victory," Williams said in a radio interview. "It just was a good all-around effort from the team, especially with Elena going down."
Palmer finished with 24 points and tied Dydek with nine rebounds, Williams had a career-high 19 points and Dydek scored 12 points with three blocked shots. Nikki McCray led Washingon with 26 and was 7-for-7 at the line.
The win may cost the Starzz their season-leading scorer/rebounder/assister, Baranova, for Wednesday's game at Eastern-leading Charlotte. Baranova scored six points and had seven rebounds and two blocked shots in 13 minutes Sunday.
As Baranova attempted a rebound basket with 1:01 left in the first half, Washington guard Keri Chaconas committed what was described as a "cheap" foul and what was called a flagrant foul by the officials, and Baranova left the game with a severely sprained ankle. The actual injury was a subluxation (like a temporary dislocation) of the ankle underneath the talus bone. That means it's a little lower down than the average twisted ankle. Utah was ahead 44-20, and a free throw by Olympia Scott, standing in for Baranova, gave Utah a 25-point lead.
"I thought we played with a lot of energy, and that is important," said Utah coach Denise Taylor. "It is always disappointing for injuries to happen, but we were working pretty hard on defense. We just take each game and try to improve."