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Struggling Starzz awaiting Houston

On a three-game losing streak, out of sync and with a later-than-usual 8 p.m. start because their game is being coupled with the NBA Draft, the last thing the Utah Starzz (2-5) need right now is an angry 7-1 Houston Comets team as an opponent.

But that, of course, is what the Starzz get Wednesday night as they open a three-game homestand that could hold the key to finally putting their game together, if they do in fact have one.The Comets, who've won the last two WNBA championships and have two-time league MVP Cynthia Cooper flanked by the speedy Sheryl Swoopes and rugged Tina Thompson, lost for the first time this season Monday night at home to expansion Orlando, 68-66.

The Starzz, meanwhile, were getting waxed by 32 in Los Angeles.

Monday's was the Comets' first home loss since Aug. 1, 1998, in overtime and only their fourth total loss, playoff or regular season, since 1997. They have not lost two in a row since August 1997 and have done it only twice in their history.

Orlando (5-3) has now won four straight.

The Starzz need to win one straight here sometime soon.

They do sometimes play Houston well. Comet coach Van Chancellor has always professed caution about Utah's big frontcourt players, 7-foot-2 Margo Dydek, 6-5 Elena Baranova and 6-2 Natalie Williams and Wendy Palmer.

And the Starzz did beat the Comets once in 1997.

And Utah takes heart from Orlando's win.

"I said to myself, 'Hey, we beat Orlando at home,"' said Utah point guard Debbie Black. "I've got to tell you right now, we are an entirely different team at home. You wouldn't even know it was the same team."

To damage Houston at all, "You've got to stop their two main players (Cooper and Swoopes), and we've got to capitalize on our size," said Black.

Cooper said the Monday loss proved Houston can be vulnerable. "I think we're human, not superhuman. We are prone to mistakes, and we made some (Monday). We had a little letdown, but we'll bounce back. We're a veteran team, and we know how to bounce back." Houston is the oldest team in the league.

Utah coach Fred Williams will run the team for the fourth time Wednesday. He is 0-3 since taking over for the resigned Frank Layden. He said the only way to hang close to the Comets is to control their pick and roll. "We have to really focus on our size and perimeter play and make sure they don't turn it into an open-court game," he said, but his focus is still on Utah's woes. "We have to cut down our turnovers and work harder on our transition defense."

Cooper and Swoopes are the two leading vote-getters in the Western Conference for the WNBA July 14 All-Star Game in New York. Cooper is the league's leading scorer at 26.1 points a game, 6.1 more than second-place Yolanda Griffith of Sacramento. Swoopes is third in scoring at 19.5. Utah's Williams is fourth at 18.7 and second in rebounding (11.0). Thompson is ninth (6.8) in boards. Cooper is seventh in assists at 5.1.

The Starzz will host a struggling Cleveland on Friday and Detroit on Tuesday.