HOUSTON -- Frank Layden was looking for some answers in Wednesday's practice at the Compaq Center. He wasn't sure if he found them. He couldn't name his next starting lineup.
And even if the answers were there, he might not be able to tell by using Thursday night's Utah Starzz game at Houston as a measuring stick.The two-time defending WNBA-champion Comets are 2-0, and coach Van Chancellor was saying after their opening night win over the Washington Mystics, "We've got players who can overcome my coaching. Isn't that a wonderful thing to have? I mean, players that are good enough to overcome your coaching. And (now) I'm looking forward to seeing that other ring."
Layden? He says he's "scared to death," of the thought of meeting the Comets in the Compaq Center Thursday at 6 p.m. MDT. The game will be televised live by KJZZ-Ch. 14.
"They're the defending champions. They've got the best players and the best coach, and they've pressed it," he said, noting that they were 27-3 in 1998, and the "next-closest team had 10 losses. They're like last year's (N.Y.) Yankees."
With Utah's Monday collapse at expansion Minnesota making this one look like a colossal mismatch days before it would even be played, Layden decided to relax his Jazz-like structure on offense and defense and let the Starzz freelance a little more.
Monday was a "reality check" after Utah won its season opener at home.
Utah won't press as much defensively, either, because the inside players didn't cover their assignments while the guards were busy harassing. It wore out the guards, who fouled, and made for easy long passes. "We'll drop back and play man," he said. "We had plans to double team and run the zone trap, but we can't do it.
Wednesday, they scrimmaged with only a few plays called. The rest was playground stuff with a few plays mixed in, partly because point guard Debbie Black prefers organization. The Starzz will likely do the same in the game Thursday to see if it helps people like Adrienne Goodson, Margo Dydek, Elena Baranova and Krystyna Lara. The latter three have been with the team a week or less because of the European Championships, and Goodson's game suffers when she has to remember to be in a spot.
Lara is aggressive but is trying to learn plays as she learns English.
In the scrimmage, Layden was scanning for players who exhibited competitiveness, for good combinations of players and for who wanted to make a difference.
"I wanted to see who could play defense," he added. The scrimmage seemed to boost player spirits, but Layden observed that he may not be able to play Natalie Williams and Baranova together. It just doesn't work.
Monday, the Starzz's confidence took a wrong turn against a defense that lowered shoulders and drove them off their paths early in the offensive setup. The Lynx knocked the Starzz down; as soon as they got up, they knocked them down again. The officials allowed the rugged early defense. Layden said the Starzz needed to play through that and didn't, and when they tried to retaliate, they were the ones called for the fouls.
The Starzz also took bad shots quickly to get rid of the ball before being hit again. "It was like the ball was ticking," said Layden, calling it "panic."
Other than Tina Thompson, Houston's starters are not necessarily known for football-style play, but certainly they saw what worked for Minnesota. "Everybody in the league knows it by now," said Black, who joins Williams in relishing the contact. Black was frustrated that the Starzz had only nine assists Monday, evidence that they shot quickly.
Houston's Sheryl Swoopes is known more for offense and rebounding, but she's coming off a big defensive game in which she held No. 1 WNBA draftee Chamique Holdsclaw, dubbed the league's answer to Michael Jordan, to 3-for-14 shooting in Houston's Monday win over Washington. Swoopes watched videos of Holdsclaw's moves after the rookie had boasted of being nearly unstoppable.
Guard Cynthia Cooper is the two-time defending WNBA MVP.
"If one doesn't get you, the other one does," Layden said of the core trio of Swoopes, Coops and Thompson.
The other starters for Houston are ABL refugee Sonja Henning at the point and Bulgarian center Polina Tzekova. Both sprained ankles in the last week but expect to play. ABL all-star Jennifer Rizzoti saw her first action Monday.