Ute women extend winning streak to 24

The U women’s basketball team (14-4, 4-0 MWC) won its 24th consecutive home game with a 52 43 victory over conference rival New Mexico (10-6, 2-1 MWC) Sunday in the Huntsman Center. With the win, Utah improved its conference record to a perfect 4-0, while giving the Lobos their first conference loss of the year.

The game was televised nationally on ESPN2, giving a number of players a case of early game jitters. The Utes seemed to be affected the most by the national audience, as they missed all of their field goal attempts in the first nine minutes of the game. With 11 minutes to play in the first half, Utah trailed 9-1.

Sophomore sharpshooter Julie Wood saved her team as she came off the bench to score the Utes’ first bucket of the game-a three pointer to make it a five-point contest. Wood, No. 1 in the Mountain West Conference in three-point field-goal percentage, proceeded to knock down two more three-pointers in the next three minutes as she sparked her team to a 13-0 run.

“Julie’s an amazing shooter and she’s always been a great player,” teammate Kim Smith said. “She came in and just shot the lights out-her threes were all crucial for us. She got us rolling by hitting the first real basket of the game.”

Wood finished the game with 16 points, an effort that included a blistering 67 percent from the three-point line, making four of her six attempts.

Smith, voted preseason MWC Player of the Year, also took an active part in the Utes’ recovery from their sluggish start.

Despite the team’s slow start, Smith scored five points during the crucial first-half run sparked by Wood, and finished the game with team highs in both points (18) and rebounds (9).

“They have a very good zone defense,” Smith said. “And even with our slow start, we still ended up shooting 36 percent on the night, which says a lot about our team-that we could still get the ‘W.'”

Utah head coach Elaine Elliott wasn’t too concerned with her team’s tough start.

“We weren’t flat,” Elliott said. “I thought our kids came out ready to play, and that’s just going to happen sometimes. Maybe we were too activated, or too ready, or too excited. We couldn’t get anything to drop at first, but we didn’t panic and that’s all you can do.”

The Lobos closed the gap to three at the half, but an 8-0 Utah run to open the second half gave the Utes some breathing room.

Still, the Lobos wouldn’t go away. New Mexico made it close again near the midway mark of the second half, drawing to within six points with 8:40 to play, but strong defense by Utah clinched the victory.

While Utah was held well under its typical offensive output as a result of the stifling play of Lobo defenders, Ute defenders did even better, holding New Mexico to more than 20 points below their season average.

With several MWC games this year already amounting to defensive struggles, Utah’s ability to play solid defense will be critical for the duration of conference play.

“We just need to keep focusing on defense,” Smith said. “That’s what got us a win in this game today because we weren’t shooting the ball well.”

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