HOUSTON — Yes, the Houston Comets had to be tired, and Tina Thompson was most likely slowed up by an ankle she turned midway through the first half.
But there aren't many wins in Utah Starzz history bigger than Tuesday's 76-67 monster, a tribute to team play and Utah's first win ever at the Compaq Center. It's only the Starzz' second win in 17 tries against the four-time defending WNBA champions.
"I don't know what the history of it is," said Starzz coach Candi Harvey, who was a second-year assistant coach little more than three weeks ago but is now 5-3 as a head coach. She thought the Starzz might have won in Houston in their first season, 1997, and she was right.
What she did know was that playing at Houston equals playing at New York for "the most hostile environment in the WNBA. We're 2-1 on this road trip, and that's huge," she said.
New York is Utah's opponent when the Starzz return to the Delta Center Thursday night hoping to hit the .500 mark again. The Starzz are currently 10-11.
What makes this perhaps the sweetest win ever for Utah is that it keeps the Starzz in the hunt for a playoff berth, and how many times have they ever been able to say that? Utah just missed making the postseason last year but has for years been the only charter franchise to never have extended its season even once.
With 11 games left, the Starzz have a real shot at it, though they gained no ground on Portland with Tuesday's win. Portland clobbered New York 86-68 to remain 1/2-game ahead of Utah at 11-11 for the fourth and final playoff berth.
Houston, which played its first game at home after a six-game road trip that ended with Monday night's win at Minnesota against the most physical team in the league, fell to 15-7 but is still comfortably in second place behind Los Angeles in the Western Conference standings.
Comet Janeth Arcain scored a career-high 29 points, made 12-of-17 shots and had a team-high eight rebounds to keep Houston almost competitive while Thompson (13 points) hobbled.
"We frustrated Thompson all night," said Harvey. "Arcain got her points, but we didn't allow anyone else to step up and beat us."
And Arcain was no match for the Starzz's most-efficient balance. They had a season-high 58.5 shooting percentage, shot 62.5 from 3-point range and had four score in double figures. With 3:22 left in the first half, Utah was blistering the rim at a 73 percent rate.
Marie Ferdinand scored 16, Natalie Williams 15, Adrienne Goodson 13 and Margo Dydek 12 with Jennifer Azzi and LaTonya Johnson adding seven each, and Korie Hlede added six including Utah's final basket.
Harvey said her players apparently learned a strong lesson when they fell Saturday afternoon at Phoenix, and that was that they can't win against anybody playing 1-on-1 ball. They need to share and get better shots for each other, and Tuesday's 22 assists on 31 baskets suggested that they'd understood the error of their ways.
The Comets, who held Minnesota to a franchise-low 11 field goals Monday, led 5-2 on two Thompson baskets. Houston's last lead was 13-10.
A Ferdinand long shot and Dydek free throws put Utah up 14-13. Houston got back to 28-26 and 29-28 deficits, but back-to-back three-pointers from Johnson and Ferdinand and a Ferdinand fast-breaker off a Goodson rebound followed by five straight Williams points had Utah up 12. That run forced Thompson to come back quickly despite her sore ankle, but Houston never got closer than six points the rest of the game.
Williams tied a season high with four steals, all in the first half, and Ferdinand, who made 7-of-8 shots, had five assists. Azzi had seven assists.