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Starzz still playing for something this year

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As the Utah Starzz open their final two-game homestand of Y2K Monday night at 7 in the Delta Center against expansion Portland (10-20), there are still a few goals to be met.

Unfortunately, none of them is preparing for the WNBA playoffs.

Utah's two-game road-losing streak saw to that Thursday and Saturday, so now the biggest team goal available is posting Utah's first-ever winning season record.

At 16-14, the Starzz still have the ability to do that with a win over Portland.

A win Monday would mean Utah could finish no worse than 17-15 with league-leading Los Angeles concluding the Starzz regular season with a Wednesday-night visit to the Delta Center. Utah beat Los Angeles 89-81 in the Delta Center to conclude the 1999 season, but the 27-3 Sparks of year 2000 currently have an 11-game win streak.

A loss Monday night to the Fire, which lost 66-58 in overtime at Seattle Sunday night and had to travel on game day, might mean the Starzz would finish up at .500 since they'd have to beat the hottest team in the league to do better.

"We are out of the playoffs," Starzz forward Natalie Williams told the Sports Ticker, "but we still want to win our last couple games, and it would be nice to beat Los Angeles."

"We just have to finish up and play strong the next couple of games," says Utah coach Fred Williams. "Yeah," he said, "it means a lot to finish strong and pursue and achieve."

The Starzz did that last year to get to 15-17, which was the franchise's best record until now. In '99, they won eight of their last 11 games, including the last two, following the trade that brought Korie Hlede and now-retired Cindy Brown to the team.

This year, they have won seven of their last 11 to get where they are, but they envisioned much better. Even getting those last two road games, lost by a total of five points, would have been huge.

It would have kept Utah alive in the playoff race, but the Starzz gave up a late 3-pointer to lose at Cleveland Thursday and a tipin with seconds left to lose at Charlotte Saturday. The loss to the Sting stung Utah out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year, an ongoing league record.

Besides the winning season record, some of the other goals for Utah include the chance to win six individual-statistics league championships. Utahns are leading the league in six categories with two games to play.

The WNBA free-throw league championship could go to either current league leader Jennifer Azzi (36-for-39, .923) or rookie Stacy Frese (29-for-30, .967). Frese needs five more to become eligible for the title and the money that goes with it. Azzi is qualified.

Azzi also now leads the league in average minutes per game at 37.4 for the 13 games she's played.

Also, Hlede now leads the league in 3-point shooting (26-for-56, .429), a title Azzi won last year with Detroit.

Utah post players have a couple of possible league titles available to them, too. Natalie Williams will likely win the rebounding title, averaging 11.6 to second-place Yolanda Griffiths of Sacramento with 10.0. Williams leads the league in double-doubles, but she failed to hit one of those on the recent three-game road trip, and now Los Angeles' Lisa Leslie could tie Williams for the title. Williams has 17 double-doubles, Leslie 15, each with two games to play. And Margo Dydek leads the WNBA in shot blocking at 3.10 a game, with her nearest competition (Leslie) averaging 2.33.


E-MAIL: lham@desnews.com