Third time’s a charm?

The regular-season conference co-champion U women’s basketball team (22-6, 12-2) kicks off the Mountain West Conference Tournament Wednesday night with a repeat of its last game of the season against the San Diego State Aztecs (3-11, 8-19).

Despite having tied for the regular-season conference title, the Utes earned the second seed in the tournament after losing a tiebreaker to New Mexico, also 12 2 in conference play. The Aztecs come into the tournament as the No. 7 seed, beating out only lowly Air Force, which failed to win a conference game this year.

The Utes won both regular season contests, but the second meeting between the two teams was much closer than the first. From the look of the records, the game shouldn’t be close, but after a relatively tight game last Saturday against SDSU, the Utes are anything but assured of winning.

The first battle of the year in early February between the two teams turned into a road blowout of epic proportions for the Utes. After having some trouble on the road during the pre-conference schedule, Utah was looking for blood in every conference road game. In one of its finest defensive efforts of the year, the U held SDSU to just 12 points in the first half and gave up only another 17 in the second.

No Aztec finished with double-figures in scoring as the team limped to a measly 29 points for the entire game.

U sophomore Kim Smith, named conference Player of the Year for the second consecutive year, was phenomenal in the Utes’ first game against the Aztecs.

She scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to go along with an assist, two steals and two blocks.

Her partner in crime, sophomore shooting guard Shona Thorburn, turned in an impressive performance as well. Thorburn nabbed nine boards, scored seven points, recorded four assists and also had two steals to round out her night. In the end, the Utes nearly doubled the score of the Aztecs, winning by a whopping 27 points.

In the second meeting, a game that took place last weekend in the Huntsman Center, Smith and Thorburn played well, but this time the Aztecs fought back.

SDSU had two players finish in double figures in scoring, including a game-high performance from guard Courtney Fritz, who finished with 16 points.

After shooting a horrendous 19 percent from the floor in the first game, SDSU came into the Huntsman Center and made nearly 45 percent of its shots last Saturday.

The Aztecs more than doubled their shooting stats from the first meeting, and they did it on the road against one of the best teams in the league. The final score still indicated a fairly smooth 63-51 victory, but if the Aztecs play as well on a neutral surface as they did last weekend, the Utes could be in for a bona fide challenge in the first round.

The Aztecs have never won a conference tournament game, and the young team has only two players on its roster with any conference tourney experience.

But the tenacious group seems to be playing well at the right time, and the game should be a good one.

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