On Tuesday, the 22-2 Houston Comets completed the first sweep of the season against the 7-16 Utah Starzz.
Tonight, the 14-9 Cleveland Rockers are in the Delta Center at 7 with a chance to make it a two-year sweep of the Starzz - they are 7-0 all-time against Utah - and improve their chances of qualifying for the four-team WNBA playoffs."They are a team that has the potential to win the whole thing," said Utah coach Frank Layden. "The best team is Houston, who is having internal problems (squabbles over shooting rights between Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes). . . .
"The team with the most opportunity to knock (defending WNBA-champion Houston) out of the box is Cleveland," Layden said.
Cleveland beat Houston in the Compaq Center last week. The last time Utah played Cleveland - July 25 - was the last time Denise Taylor coached the Starzz. It was a 69-59 Rocker win, another game in which the Starzz had a lead late (53-49 with 8:05 left) and lost it.
The Rockers are the most physical inside team in the league, with 6-foot-5 Isabelle Fijalkowski, 6-3 Eva Nemcova, 6-3 Janice Braxton, 6-2 Rushia Brown and 6-3 Raegan Scott of Orem, who played for the Starzz part of last year.
The Starzz - despite 7-2 Margo Dydek, 6-5 Elena Baranova (out another game or two with a sprained ankle) and the 6-2 pair of Wendy Palmer and Olympia Scott - aren't known for inside toughness.
Palmer and Scott can hold their own but are outsized by the Rockers. Dydek, who is just starting to learn what aggressive play is all about, has played Fijalkowski in Europe, with Dydek's team winning the last meeting in Euro finals.
Because she's familiar with Fijalkowski and because the Starzz haven't beaten the Rockers, Dydek was asked if she wants to beat Cleveland more than other teams.
"Any team, I want to beat. Cleveland, Houston, whatever," Dydek said.
Layden says he's unsure if Utah's inside softness is physical or mental. If it's physical, it can be fixed. If it's mental, "it may be irrevocable," he said.
Saying his team "got beat up pretty good" Tuesday by Houston, Layden wonders what the Starzz will do against the Rockers. "If these guys come in here (Thursday) and beat us up, then you've got to have some concern. You've got to play good at home.
"I'm not saying you've always got to win at home," he said, adding that the Starzz must start making it uncomfortable for teams to come to the Delta Center.
Meanwhile, Dydek says she is becoming more comfortable - not to losing but in increased confidence with the extra schooling Layden's staff is giving her. And she sees more spirit in the team.
"When we start to lose, we don't believe in ourselves," she said.
Coaches are working with her, getting her to move toward the basket for shots rather than to shoot the fadeaway she's been using. And there are other tips.
"Sometimes it's just little things I think everyone knows but don't think about it," she said.
NOTEZZ: Parents of four players are visiting Salt Lake City this week, and Layden took them to lunch Wednesday . . . Also visiting is Dydek's 16-year-old sister Marta (pronounced Martha), who arrived on a 9 p.m. flight Tuesday during the Houston game. Kashka Dydek, the eldest sister who's been living with Margo and going to school all summer, went to pick up Marta. Marta is a member of Poland's junior national basketball team. She is 6-3 . . . Tuesday's "thank Frank" night with $1 upper-bowl tickets brought out 15,657, a Starzz' home-attendance record.