Games between the Phoenix Mercury (13-10) and Utah Starzz (7-17) seem to involve embarrassment.
Phoenix has laid the WNBA's two worst losses ever on the Utah Starzz, a 32-pointer last year and a 33-pointer on June 26 of 1998.And Utah has gotten some measure of revenge, getting only the third win in Starzz history over Phoenix last year, taking the Mercs to overtime before losing last year in Phoenix and running roughshod over them less than two weeks ago, 90-80 in the Delta Center, in Frank Layden's WNBA coaching debut. The Starzz haven't won since, losing four straight.
That loss prolonged a Phoenix losing streak that eventually reached five games, and the Mercs have lost five of their last six games, beating only league doormat Washington, then losing 75-64 at league-leading Houston. Phoenix was 1-for-16 on 3-point attempts in that game.
The Mercury's swoon is strangely similar to what it did in August last year, losing six straight and eight of its last nine to barely make the playoffs. They are currently only a half game above the cutoff for making the playoffs now, with 10 days to go in the 1998 season.
Utah was eliminated from the playoffs with Thursday's 79-69 Delta Center loss to Cleveland.
The two meet for the last time in '98 tonight at 8 MDT in America West Arena, where the fan support is likely the best in the league. Utah is desperately looking for some season's-end momentum to carry into next season, and the Mercs are trying to make the playoffs and showcase rugged 6-foot-3 forward Jennifer Gillom as a WNBA MVP candidate.
"Grandmama," as the 34-year-old is known to teammates, averages 20.4 points a game, second in the league. She gets 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.7 steals in 31.5 minutes a game. In the July 27 loss at Utah, Gillom scored a franchise-high 31, and she has led Phoenix scoring in the last seven games, averaging 24.0.
For Utah, Wendy Palmer has had a strong month and is coming off a 26-point, eight-rebound game. Margo Dydek had one of her best games Thursday as well, 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocked shots, a WNBA record, breaking her own record of eight. She has 89 blocks for the season and should top 100 with six games left.
Guard Tammi Reiss is doubtful tonight after starting the Cleveland game but reinjuring bruised ribs, causing her to miss the second half. Elena Baranova has missed nearly eight games with an ankle sprain.
Utah returns to the Delta Center Monday to meet Detroit, one of two WNBA teams it's never beaten (Cleveland is the other).