Women’s hoops score first big win

The U women’s basketball team (4-2) scored its first big win of the season as the Utes took down the University of Washington (3-3) 64-56 Saturday afternoon in the Huntsman Center.

The Utes have one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the country this year, and with two losses to nationally ranked teams already under their belts, the Utes desperately needed the victory. Washington, though unranked, is among a group of teams receiving votes for the top 25 each week. The Huskies have already defeated then-No. 13 Minnesota handily, and are expected to contend for the PAC-10 conference crown this year.

“This is a huge win for us,” said the Utes’ junior point guard, Shona Thorburn. “Going in, we knew we had to win. When it came down to it, we needed a big win and we hadn’t had one yet this year.”

U head coach Elaine Elliott said that the win was critical with so many big games still remaining on the Utes’ schedule.

“We feel like we have a really hard schedule,” Elliott said. “And we felt like we wanted to win some of our tough games. This is one of those home games we knew would be difficult and we knew it would come down to the wire. We got the ‘W’ and that’s big for us.”

The Utes will play No. 23 Texas Christian University next weekend, and then the University of Oklahoma the following weekend. Oklahoma is currently the top unranked team receiving votes in the weekly polls, meaning they would be ranked No. 26 if the polls went that far.

Knowing that the games will only get harder, the Utes needed to know if they were capable of winning. They had come extremely close to defeating then-No. 7 Stanford as well as then-No. 13 Michigan State, but both times they came up short in the final minutes of the game. Saturday afternoon the Utes proved to themselves that they could step up under the pressure, even in a close game against a good team.

“I think we showed a lot of character tonight,” Thorburn said. “We hit our free throws down the stretch and we made big plays at the end.”

Thorburn led the Utes in scoring with 16 points. She also grabbed seven rebounds and passed for three assists. While Thorburn’s stats were impressive, the most important stat of the game was the number of free throws made by the Utes in the waning minutes. In a contest that featured 40 free-throw attempts, the Utes struggled early from the charity stripe, making only four of their first seven. In the second half the Utes turned it around, making 13 of 14 attempts to seal the fate of the Huskies.

Though the Utes led for most of the second half, the Huskies made things interesting as the game neared its conclusion. Washington pulled to within one point with 14 minutes left in the game, and would come within two points four more times before letting the game slip out of their reach.

The Huskies appeared to be the better team in the first half, taking a 29-27 lead into the locker room at the intermission. But after shooting 44 percent from the field in the first half, Washington had trouble making baskets in the second. The Huskies shot a torrid 23-percent from the floor in the second period, leaving the door open for the U. The Utes took advantage, making 61 percent of their shots in the second half, proving they could play well when the game was on the line.

Elliott said she was encouraged by her team’s effort. The Utes have only three upper classmen on the team and still have a long way to go before they reach their potential. Seeing her team buckle down when the pressure was highest let Elliott know that this team can be pretty good.

“We still have a long way to go,” Elliott said. “We’re still pretty raw so it’s fun to know how much better we can get.”

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