U women rout Air Force, set sights on New Mexico

Freshman Deanne Hanchett scored a career-high 27 points and hauled in six rebounds as the U women’s basketball team crushed the Air Force Academy 97-47 Thursday night.

The Utes (14-4, 3-0 MWC) won their sixth straight against the struggling Falcons (5-10, 0-2 MWC) and remained undefeated in conference play in a road battle that was never close. With the win, the Utes improved to 16-0 all-time against the Falcons.

“We jumped on them early and led the whole way,” said the Utes head coach Elaine Elliott. “The kids came out ready to play and it was a nice effort.”

The Utes led by 24 at the half, and didn’t lose any intensity when they came out for the second half.

The U improved its lead to 50 points before the game ended and scored the most points ever by a U women’s team in the history of MWC play with 97.

“You don’t want a team to come back and win the second half and think the first half might have been some kind of aberration,” Elliott said. “It was nice to see our kids play with a high level of intensity in the second half even though we had the lead.”

Junior Kim Smith notched her eighth double-double of the year with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Smith, the two-time Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, leads the conference in rebounds with an average of 9.4 and is second in the conference in scoring with 16.9 per contest.

The Utes’ junior point guard Shona Thorburn tied her career-high in assists with 11 and also scored 13 points. Thorburn, who leads the MWC in assists with an average of 6.53, came into the game ranked No. 8 nationally in assists. Thorburn should move up the list after her performance against the Falcons.

The celebration over the Air Force victory will be short lived for the Utes. They travel directly from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque, N.M., for a Saturday afternoon game in the Pit against the New Mexico Lobos (13-2, 2-0 MWC).

It might be the biggest game on the Utes schedule. Although BYU is still Utah’s traditional rival, the New Mexico series has recently emerged as the MWC’s elite rivalry. Both teams are receiving votes for the top 25 in The Associated Press Poll and they are the only two teams in the conference to have received a national ranking in the last two years. Both squads have been ranked in the top 25 at least once this year an neither has a conference loss.

The drama of the rivalry goes well beyond the quality of the two teams-this rivalry has a history.

The Utes lost two out of three games last year to the Lobos including a devastating 21-point blowout in the conference tournament finals. Failing to win the tournament ultimately cost the Utes their season.

They finished with a record of 24-7 and tied with the Lobos for the regular-season conference championship-but in the end they were snubbed by the NCAA Tournament Committee.

New Mexico is expecting more than 15,000 people to attend the game in the infamous Pit.

The Utes lost to the Lobos last year in the Pit but overcame 22 percent shooting in the first half to tie the game at 44 in the final minutes. New Mexico pulled ahead when, trailing by three, the U had a chance to tie as time expired. Kelsy Stireman’s three-point shot was off the mark and the Lobos stopped the Utes nine-game winning streak and gave them their first conference loss.

To say the least, the Utes would love to win this game. Tip-off is at 2 p.m.

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