Winning streak on the line vs. Falcons

The U women’s basketball team (12-4, 2-0 MWC) has everything to lose and very little to gain as they open their home conference schedule with a game against the Air Force Academy (3-11, 0-1 MWC) tonight at the Huntsman Center.

In the team’s history, the Utes have never lost to the Falcons. Adding to that is the mounting pressure of Utah’s 22-game home winning streak. Utah is currently undefeated in conference play, as the squad recently completed a successful two-game road trip to open its conference schedule.

Air Force, on the other hand, has struggled all season to find an identity. Not traditionally known for a strong women’s basketball team, the program has made strides of late.

While the turnaround of the Falcons is far from complete, New Mexico’s head coach Don Flanagan recently went so far as to call the current AFA group “the best Air Force team I’ve seen in years.”

The Falcons are not an impressive bunch statistically, losing their last five games and managing to rank at or near the bottom of almost every category among Mountain West Conference teams. With only three wins on the year against the likes of Northern Colorado, New Mexico Highlands and Portland, the Falcons still have a long way to go before they can contend for a conference title.

Freshman Latricia Castillo has given Falcon fans a reason to be optimistic, however. In her first year, she has shot her way into one of the top scorers in the league, averaging 13.5 points in each contest. She is joined by seniors Amoy Jackson (team leader in rebounds and free throws) and Shawna Neff (11.2 points, 5.9 rebounds per game) as the backbone of a team that could give the Utes trouble if they aren’t careful. Air Force also recently handed the reigns of point guard over to another up-and-coming freshman, Andrea Taylor, whose youth and unpredictability might be enough to throw the Utes off.

A Utah loss is, however, the most unlikely of scenarios this Thursday night. Led by sophomores Kim Smith-who leads the team in scoring with 15.7 points per game to go along with 7.3 boards-and Shona Thorburn (12.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, team high 3.7 assists per contest), the Utes are still considered among the most dangerous teams in the country. Until last week, the Utes were ranked in the top 25 in both national polls.

Nonconference losses to the likes of Oklahoma and Montana (both teams with winning records) bumped the Utes out of the top 25, but they are still getting enough votes to finish around No. 30, if the polls went that far. Regardless of its current ranking, Utah hasn’t lost at home since dropping a 79-71 decision to UNLV late in the 2000-2001 regular season, and it would be a dagger in their hearts if they were to drop this one.

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