Utes soaring behind Smith, Thorburn

By By Tye Smith

By Tye Smith

Two women accounted for almost half of the total points scored by the Utah women’s basketball team last year and were largely responsible for the team’s record-setting regular season record of 22-5.

The same two women grabbed more than a third of the team’s total rebounds and led the team to a surprising regular-season conference championship.

The same two, both first-year players, had a critical role in securing a berth in the NCAA Tournament and turning around the women’s basketball program almost overnight.

The two women are Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn, and their presence on the court has already earned the team a preseason ranking of No. 9 in the country by WomensCollegeHoops.com.

Thorburn and Smith are both natives of Canada. Smith is a 6 foot-1 forward from a small town in British Columbia, while Thorburn is a 5-foot-10 guard out of Ontario.

They are currently in Toronto as members of the Canadian National Team that will compete for a spot in the Olympics. Earning a spot on the national team was a significant accomplishment for the women, considering that both have completed only one year of play at the collegiate level.

As the two stars enter their sophomore seasons, expectations for the Utes could not be any more different from what they were before the arrivals of Smith and Thorburn.

“We really came out of nowhere last year,” coach Elaine Elliott said. “This year presents a different set of circumstances.”

Senior forward/center Carley Marshall has been on the team since before the arrival of Thorburn and Smith, and acknowledges the impact they have had on the program and its future.

“Next year will be extremely different,” Marshall said. “It will be a year of high hopes and great expectations.” Marshall, who was third behind Smith and Thorburn in team scoring average, is not intimidated by the elevated expectations that Thorburn and Smith have brought to the team.

Marshall admits that the new season poses “more of a challenge,” but is quick to point out that the Utes have “always been targeted” and that the “pressure we feel from being No. 1 is not something new.”

As a player, Marshall was immediately impressed with Thorburn and Smith. “It isn’t often that you have two women coming in as composed and ready to learn as Kim and Shona did,” Marshall said. “Most freshmen don’t have leadership skills, but these two did.”

As a coach, Elliott is also impressed with the leadership abilities Thorburn and Smith possessed, even at such an early stage of development. Elliott explained that other players are strongly affected by the way the two demonstrate a superior work ethic.

Their behavior has had a contagious effect on the rest of the team. “They have a complete commitment to improving themselves,” Elliott said. “Nobody wants to be the one to hold them back.”

How do Thorburn and Smith feel about each other? Off the court, the two consider each other best friends. On the court, the way they play together is best described as intuitive.

“[Thorburn] has amazing court vision,” said Smith. “When I play with her, it’s like we both know what the other one is thinking.” Smith went on to say that “if I make a cut and she can see my fingertips, she will somehow thread a pass through the defense for an easy two.”

Such trust is uncommon among teammates at any level of sport, and to have the kind of trust shared by Thorburn and Smith is a huge part of the reason for the Utes’ success.

“I love playing with Kim,” said Thorburn. “She makes everyone around her better, and she brings the level of play up to a new level.”

The Canadian connection established by Thorburn and Smith is one that the coaches hope to tap into in the coming years.

Already, the Utes have another Canadian-6-foot-1 forward Shauna Brouillard of Ontario-coming in this season as a freshman. Elliott says Brouillard will fill an important role as an inside player, an area in which the team was lacking during its run last year.

Coming off a record-setting season, expectations are high. But with Thorburn and Smith leading the way, the U women’s basketball team looks poised to deliver.

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