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Streaking Starzz shoot for 4th in a row

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PHOENIX — The Phoenix Mercury's seven losses include games to Los Angeles, Minnesota, Cleveland, New York and Houston — all teams that are or were near the top of their WNBA conferences when the Mercury played them.

And the Mercury have lost both of their games to the Utah Starzz, who are rarely so fearsome to other teams.

Add in last August's tornado-diverted game in Ogden, and the Mercury have lost three straight to the Starzz, who will try to make it four straight — times two — Wednesday night in America West Arena at 8 p.m. MDT.

The Starzz, now 12-10, could get both a fourth win over 13-7 Phoenix and a fourth win in a row overall if they can continue their late-season charge aimed at making the WNBA playoffs for the first time.

Wednesday's game will be the sixth since point guard Jennifer Azzi returned from a broken hand, and Utah's turnovers have taken a dramatic dip in the last two games, season-lows of 13 followed by 11, helping the Starzz to be in control late.

"She's helped us get the turnovers down," said coach Fred Williams. "Now, we have to concentrate on boxing out on the boards."

Phoenix had 15 offensive rebounds and beat Utah on the boards Friday, and Sacramento had 10 offensive rebounds Saturday.

Now the Starzz have been cut down in size a bit, and size has often been their ace against Phoenix. Not with the Utah contingent in Phoenix is 6-foot-3 backup center Naomi Mulitauaopele, who injured a knee in Saturday's game at Sacramento. Trainer Leanne Stockton said the injury could keep Mulitauaopele out a week to 10 days, but she's also considered "day-to-day." She described the situation as a bone bruise, sprained posterior capsule and stretched posterior cruciate ligament.

Phoenix is also without several players, including 6-8 Maria Stepanova, as well as guard Michelle Timms.

"Not having 'Omi' is going to hurt," said Starzz coach Fred Williams. "We're going to have to give Amy more minutes."

That's 6-4 rookie Amy Herrig, who has averaged a team-low 2.1 points and 9.0 minutes per game. Williams said Herrig passed well in 11 minutes played at Sacramento.

Williams also said he may match Phoenix's small lineup of four perimeter players at times with 6-0 Adrienne Goodson playing the power forward position, presumably moving LaTonya Johnson or Kate Starbird into a bigger playing role.

That could work against the Mercury, he said, but it won't work as the Starzz head east to play at Miami Friday night and at Eastern Conference-leading Orlando Sunday afternoon because they have more post play.

Last Friday's win over third-place Phoenix in the Delta Center and Saturday's win at fourth-place Sacramento gave Utah the season tiebreakers over both of the clubs directly above them in the Western Conference standings and left them just one game behind the Monarchs and two behind the Mercury.

They could cut that in half in one swoop Wednesday night in a game that will be televised live by KJZZ-Ch. 14.

"We worked pretty hard. We needed to go hard," said Williams, referring to the two days off most Starzz players had Sunday and Monday during the WNBA All-Star Game. Natalie Williams, of course, was Utah's entrant in the All-Star Game played Monday in Phoenix. The reigning WNBA player of the week scored five points and had 10 rebounds in the All-Star Game.