Getting over the hump

Fact: U women’s basketball head coach Elaine Elliott is the winningest basketball coach in the history of the school. She is generally considered the best coach in the Mountain West Conference.

Fact: Juniors Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn are the two best basketball players in the MWC. Sounds like a pretty good combination, right?

It should be, but since Smith and Thorburn’s freshman campaigns, the Utes have come up inexplicably short in every big situation they have faced. Each year they flirt with the top 25, only to suffer brutal losses when the most is at stake. For the last two years, the Utes have had difficult non-conference schedules that left them in a hole going into the conference slate. Last season the Utes lost to every ranked opponent they played. This year is no different. The Utes are 0-5 this season against teams that are currently receiving votes for The Associated Press top 25.

The Utes did manage an early December victory over Texas Christian University, which was then ranked No. 23. But TCU is no longer ranked and no longer receiving votes in the AP top 25. Despite winning the Hawaii Wahine Classic tournament at the beginning of the year and defeating then-ranked No. 3 Georgia, the Frogs have faltered of late and are no longer receiving any national recognition.

That leaves the Utes in a tough spot.It’s a familiar one, too. Without any quality wins to hang their hats on at the end of the year, the NCAA Tournament Committee is likely to look elsewhere-just like last year.

The Utes will always have the chance to secure an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament if they win the conference tournament. But with New Mexico winning three of its last four against the U-including the finals of last year’s conference tournament-relying on a guaranteed berth sounds like a recipe for disaster. Just like last year.

Though the Utes have yet to face the Lobos at home, the impact of a Ute victory might be minimal. One big win on the Utes’ home court is unlikely to impress the NCAA Tournament Committee enough to do the trick. You guessed it-just like last year.

The frustrating thing about it is that the Utes often come very close to winning their big games-they just never pull it out in the end.

It must be hard for such competitive people to come up short whenever something big is on the line. Smith and Thorburn came to the U with the intention of making it to the Sweet Sixteen every year. Two years ago they were projected to make the Final Four by some preseason publications-we all know what happened.

Failing to make the tournament last year was a serious blow to the careers of Thorburn and Smith because last year’s team had three starting seniors and more surrounding talent. Now, in their junior years, Smith and Thorburn have been left with a team of nine underclassmen.

After hoping to dominate for all four years of college, Smith and Thorburn will probably end up writing their legacy next year when they are seniors and the team has matured. They will continue to put up video-game stats, but until the team develops, the Utes will be left on the outside looking in.

There is still a possibility for a miracle this year, but it’s a long shot, and it involves beating New Mexico on a neutral surface-something they failed to do last year.

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