Somewhere, Denise Taylor is feeling a little relief. It ain't all that easy to get the Utah Starzz to play well, even if you're a former NBA Coach of the Year.

Frank Layden, who replaced Taylor as coach of the Utah Starzz Monday morning and won his debut game Monday night, could only watch Thursday night in the Compaq Center as the Starzz quickly disappeared from the radar screen in America's space-command city.The league-leading, defending WNBA-champion Houston Comets, who struggled mightily to beat Utah in the first two games this season, by two in overtime and by four at home, gave Utah loads of respect Thursday: They poured it on from beginning to end in an 88-65 win.

It was 20-1 Houston's 15th straight win, an ongoing league-record streak, and the win meant first-place Houston clinched a playoff spot. Houston's 51-point first half gave it a 26-point margin at intermission, its biggest of the season.

The loss cut Layden's winning percentage in half while keeping the Starzz from getting something they've never had before - an eighth win. They were 7-21 and last in the league in 1997. They're 7-14 now and host Los Angeles in the Delta Center Saturday night to open a three-game homestand.

"I'm very impressed with this Houston ballclub," said Layden. "They were sky high, and they came out and shot the ball really well. They did it from their defensive end. We had 23 turnovers and made some bad decisions."

Layden had hoped to cut Utah's turnover-prone ways with spacing and patience and consistent playing time for starters, but the Comets were credited with 15 steals.

"In the second half, we played very respectably (outscoring Houston 40-37). They played with poise and made their shots like a championship team," Layden said.

"Houston did a great job," said Starzz forward Wendy Palmer (11 points, 5-for-5 shooting, six rebounds). "I don't think we did anything different, but we had 23 turnovers, and there's no excuse for unforced turnovers. We still have confidence. Houston is a great team, and you have to come in and be ready to play."

"You've got to give the credit to Houston," said guard Tammi Reiss (two points, three steals). "They shot the ball well, they executed well, and once you're down, it's real hard to come back.

We were flat and shot the ball poorly. We had 23 turnovers. We know we can play with them because we have had close games before."

Houston got 22 points and 10 assists from defending WNBA MVP Cynthia Cooper and 20 points, 15 in the first half, and eight rebounds from Sheryl Swoopes. Tina Thomp-son added 14 points and six rebounds, and Janeth Arcain had 11 and seven.

Utah got a strong game only from 7-foot-2 center Margo Dydek, who had 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, 11 rebounds (her sixth double-double) and five blocked shots with only two turnovers. "Margo has improved every game," said Layden. "She listens to instructions, and she is a very bright lady. There is a toughness about her, and she works hard in practice."

Kim Williams scored all 10 of her points in the second half but had five turnovers, and point guard Chantel Tremitiere had seven assists but just five points and four turnovers.