Women’s hoops open MWC play on three-game winning streak

After another season ofups and downs during thenon-conference portion of itsschedule, the U women’s basketballteam (11-4) is gainingmomentum as it enters conferenceplay.The Utes are winners oftheir last three games, and despitesome tough losses alongthe way, the players appearready for the conference slate.”We’re excited,” Ute guardShona Thorburn said. “We’recoming off some good wins.We definitely had a bad slump,but we’re coming together atthe right time.”For a third consecutive year,the Utes completed non-conferenceplay with four losses,and once again, the Utes failedto beat most of the top-rankedopponents they played. TheUtes managed a victoryagainst then-No. 23 TCU, butsuffered difficult losses to thelikes of No. 8 Stanford, No. 6Michigan State, Oklahoma andGonzaga.Though the Utes have struggledat times, the team has alsoshown flashes of brilliance. Asexpected, juniors Shona Thorburnand Kim Smith are leadingthe way.Smith, a two-time winnerof the Mountain West ConferencePlayer of the Year award,is having her finest season asa Ute. She recently becamethe 10th-ranked scorer on theUtes’ all-time list, and her averageof 17 points per gameranks second in the MWC.The junior is the No. 1-rankedrebounder in the conferencein with 9.3 boards per game.Thorburn, who recentlybecame the 19th Ute to score1,000 points in her career,has adapted to her role aspoint guard well. She leadsthe MWC in assists with anaverage of 6.6 per game. IfThorburn sustains her currentpace, she will finish theyear No. 3 on the Utes’ singleseasonassist list. Thorburn isalready ranked seventh on theUtes’ all-time assist chart.Thorburn doesn’t just pass-she likes to shoot the ball, too.Her 12.2 points per game and6.9 rebounds are both goodenough to rank in the top 10 inthe conference. With its non-conference schedule squarely in therear-view mirror, the U can now focuson its conference foes. The Utes openMWC play with a night game againstColorado State (9-4) this Thursday inthe Huntsman Center.”Conference play is always fun becauseevery team is a rival,” Thorburnsaid.While the players might enjoy theatmosphere of playing a well-knownopponent, this year might not be allthat fun to be a team in the MWC. Thisseason should be one of the toughestin recent memory, as the conferenceis loaded with talent.”Our conference is really strongthis year,” Thorburn said.New Mexico, which dealt the Utestwo losses last year, is the top-rankedteam in the MWC. The Lobos tout arecord of 10-2 and a national rankingof No. 25. Colorado State, Wyomingand BYU are all nipping at the heelsof the Utes and the Lobos with recordsof 9-4, while UNLV sits at [email protected]