HOUSTON (AP) - It took Sheryl Swoopes only six weeks to recover from childbirth and return to basketball. It took her less than a week to really make her comeback.
After three scoreless games since her WNBA debut on Aug. 7, the Houston Comets forward once again looked like the Olympian she is Tuesday night, scoring 18 points over 21 minutes in a victory over the Utah Starzz.
"I definitely felt good both mentally and physically, and what really impressed me had nothing to do with the points," Swoopes said after practice Wednesday. "What impressed me with myself was my ability to play 21 minutes.
"I honestly didn't think I'd be up to 15 or 20 minutes until later in the season, possibly even the playoffs."
Swoopes, one of the league's marquee signees, gave birth to Jordan Eric Jackson on June 25 and began practicing again on July 30. Last week's game against Phoenix was her first competition since leading the U.S. women to the 1996 Olympic gold medal in the Atlanta Games.
In the Comets' 76-56 win over Utah, Swoopes provided relief for Cynthia Cooper, who led all scorers with 21 points and had just come off a 39-point, eight-steal effort in the Comets' 72-62 victory over Charlotte on Monday night.
With the most recent victory - the Comets' fifth straight - Houston moved past New York into first place in the Eastern Conference.
"I felt like it was really important that whatever minutes I played, I went in and picked up a little bit of slack because I knew Cynthia was really tired from the game against Charlotte," Swoopes said. "I really wanted to be able to go in whenever she needed a break or needed rest."
Swoopes hit two 3-pointers and scored four more points in the first half - when Cooper, the league's leading scorer, was held to two points - to give the Comets a 35-31 halftime lead.
Swoopes finished 7-of-13 from the field.
"Sheryl really gave us an emotional lift," Cooper said of her teammate, a favorite of the crowd of 7,084 at The Summit. "She gave us exactly what we needed, the offensive power we needed in the first half."
Swoopes played more than twice as long as she did in any of her first three games since having the baby. She came off the bench for five minutes during her first appearance, eight during her second and just three minutes Monday night.
On Tuesday night, "I felt more confident in myself, more relaxed and I just, I guess I kind of put all of the outside distractions out of my mind," said the 1993 NCAA Final Four MVP, who led Texas Tech to the national championship.
"I don't think I'll be 100 percent until next season," she added. "I'm being realistic about it, and I'm looking forward to winning a championship this year and going in the offseason and working on my game a lot."