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WNBA’s Slump busters

Who ya gonna call if you need a win? Just try the Starzz

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Down on your luck? On a losing streak? Can't shoot straight?

The Utah Starzz can help.

They are the WNBA's Slump Busters. Generous to a fault. They can't diagnose their own problems, much less fix them, but they can doctor anybody else's ills.

Monday night in the Delta Center, it was the Miami Sol that was in need, and the Starzz warmly responded by letting them win 69-59.

"This game will increase our mental health tremendously," said a grateful Miami coach Ron Rothstein.

Utah, 5-7 overall, is now 2-6 at home, closing out the first half of the home season.

Miami, 6-8, came to the Starzz on a five-game losing streak, shooting a league-worst .383 from the field, scoring 61.6 points, 15th of 16 WNBA teams, and having fallen by 26 Sunday night at Los Angeles and then making the journey to Utah for a back-to-back.

The Starzz now have to do that in reverse, playing at 11-3 Los Angeles Tuesday night at 8:30 MDT.

The Sol left its first-ever experience at the Delta Center shooting 45.2 percent for the game and scoring seven points more than their average, while holding the Starzz six points under Miami's defensive average and 12 points under the Starzz's scoring average.

The Starzz shot 33.8 percent from the field, 31.3 in the first half. "We will take some credit for their 32 percent shooting but not all of it," said Rothstein.

No, the Starzz take some of the credit for that, too. "We have great shots, but we are not hitting them," said guard Jennifer Azzi, adding, "We didn't play well defensively tonight, and I don't know why."

"They were playing a pretty desperate team," soothed former Utah player Debbie Black, now point guard for the Sol.

There is a pattern here. On Friday in Washington, the Starzz busted the Mystics' eight-game losing streak. Portland had lost three in a row before beating the Starzz, Sacramento had lost two in a row but won by 12 at Utah.

Miami's mounting angst was sated partly by the Starzz and partly through perseverance. "We tried to play better defense," Black said.

On offense, the Sol set rock-hard screens to spring their slumping shooters like Sheri Sam, who scored a game-high 23 and grabbed nine rebounds. "We executed better than we have been," Black said, "and got our shooters some good looks."

Miami's picks were obvious and effective. One knock on the Starzz is that they don't set any. "We have a lot of screens in our offense," said Starzz coach Fred Williams, claiming, "They usually go against us on a charge (foul). I think they're set hard." Williams was ejected with 5:42 left for consecutive technical fouls for protesting a rebounding foul on Natalie Williams, who thought she'd tied up the ball for a jump.

Ex-Starzz player Kristen Rasmussen added 10 off the bench on 4-for-6 shooting, and ex-Starzz player Elena Baranova was 4-for-7 for 10 points.

Natalie Williams overcame a 3-for-11 first half — she had 10 boards in that half — for a 22-point, 14-rebound night and her ninth double-double of the season to lead Utah.

"Utah stole one from us last week," said Sam, "and we made it a point to come in and get a win tonight." She referred to Utah's 68-63 overtime win at Miami Thursday that was Miami's third loss in a row.

Starzz rookie Marie Ferdinand may have hit it on the head. "We have to play hard and play like we want it," she said.

Defense is like that, a matter of wanting to. The Starzz don't always seem to want to.

That's not to say they're not trying. "We play hard, but we don't feel the flow. We don't have the rhythm of the game," said Margo Dydek, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds in Miami but nine points and 11 rebounds Monday. "We know we are supposed to win this kind of game."

E-MAIL: lham@desnews.com