By Michelle Kramer
The Utah Starzz are hoping to extinguish the Portland Fire at home on July 12 after losing two games over the weekend.
On Sunday, July 9, the Starzz lost to the Los Angeles Sparks on the road. Sparks center Lisa Leslie tied her season-high, scoring 22 points. Adrienne Goodson scored all 13 of her points in the second half. Korie Hlede pitched in 11 points on the effort. Jennifer Azzi, in her second game back, shot 4-11, connecting for 8 points. With the loss on Sunday, Utah fell below .500 at 9-10 on the season.
It was an emotional night at the Delta Center on July 7, with the much-anticipated return of Starzz point guard Jennifer Azzi as Utah took on the Detroit Shock.
Azzi, placed on the injured reserved list on May 25 after breaking the third metacarpal in her right hand during Utah’s second preseason contest of the 2000 season, suited up to face her former team for the first time. Scoring only four points and dishing out five assists, her presence was most important to morale.
“Jennifer’s really a floor leader. She sees the whole floor and places everyone where they need to be,” said Starzz coach Fred Williams.
Even with the former Stanford star back at the helm, Utah took a beating against Detroit, losing 73-69 in their only first and only meeting this season against the Shock.
“The first half set the tone,” Coach Williams said.
Utah led by as much as nine in the first half before the Shock began a rally and took hold of the lead at 10:05 on a lay-up by Joy Holmes-Harris. Detroit cemented their first half lead following a fast break lay-up on a steal by Anna DeForge and a Holmes jumper from downtown on an assist from former Starzz player Olympia Scott-Richardson.
When the first half buzzer sounded, Utah was down 29-38 despite stellar performances from Natalie Williams and Adrienne Goodson. Williams had 10 points and 7 rebounds in the first half, leading the Starzz in both categories.
“We dug ourselves an early grave,” Goodson said.
Starting off with possession of the ball in the second half, the Starzz hoped to turn things around. Goodson, who finished the game with 21 points and 3 steals, cut Detroit’s lead to three on a driving lay-up with 19:09 to play.
Things heated up when Coach Williams received two technical fouls for arguing an official’s call and was ejected from the game. It was Williams’ first ejection from a game ever in his coaching career.
On the technical, Elena Tornikidou went to the line for Detroit. Making one of two shots, Tornikidou put the Shock up by 12.
Utah recanted on a steal from Williams who then went to the line, two shots in one minute from former Shock player Kori Hlede and Goodson’s appearance at the charity stripe. The Starzz took advantage of two bad passes by Oksana Zakauluzhnaya to pull within three on two fast break lay-ups by Goodson.
In the game, Utah converted 26 Detroit turnovers into 27 points. The Starzz even rallied to outscore the Shock in the second half 40-35 but it was too little, too late.
One factor in Detroit’s favor was their outside shooting. Zakauluzhnaya shot two crucial shots from the marquee, one that tied the game in the first half and another that brought about a six-point lead in the last ten minutes of regulation.
As a whole the Shock, while only shooting 50 percent from three-point range, hit four of eight. Utah was 0-for-5 on the night from downtown.
Jennifer Azzi also received a technical foul in the game, the first in her WNBA career. It occurred with 4:54 left in the second half when she disputed an official’s call. Tornikidou’s three free throws earned from Azzi’s technical and a personal foul on LaTonya Johnson resulted in 65-61 Detroit lead.
Concerning the technical Azzi said, “It was a dumb mistake and if I’d known it’d cost us the game, I wouldn’t have talked to the official.”
Ultimately, the game was won at the line. The Starzz tied the game four times in the last six minutes on free throws from Azzi, Williams and Goodson.
Detroit regained the lead on free throws from DeForge, Tornikidou and forward Astou Ndiaye-Diatta before Edwina Brown pounded the nails in the coffin. Brown hit four free throws in the final seconds that resulted from two personal fouls called on Goodson.
“We know we’re the better team. That’s the most frustrating thing — we didn’t show it tonight,” Azzi said, “Give Detroit credit. We have a great team but they wanted the win more.”
The Utah Starzz face the Portland Fire at home on Wednesday, July 12 at 7 p.m. KFNZ 1320 AM will broadcast the game.