Cooked Cougars: U women knock off BYU to complete season sweep

The U women’s basketball team survived a close one Thursday night as it defeated BYU 68-58. The Utes (20-6, 9-2 MWC) remained tied atop the Mountain West Conference standings with New Mexico, while the Cougars (16-9, 7-5 MWC) fell into a distant third.

The Utes’ junior point guard Shona Thorburn notched 24 points and 4 assists while her partner in crime, junior forward Kim Smith, put up 16 points and five assists.

After a tight first half, Utah opened the second half with a fury, building an 18-point lead by the 12-minute mark on the merits of a 17-3 run. BYU responded with an 11-4 run to close the gap to seven points with five and a half minutes remaining in the game, but it was too little too late.

U head coach Elaine Elliott said she was impressed by the maturity displayed by her team after BYU made the 17-3 run.

“After that [BYU] made a nice run,” Elliott said. “The difference was that our kids didn’t panic. They made their push and our kids stood tough.”

A 9-0 Utah run midway through the first half also had an important impact on the game. After battling back and forth for the early part of the contest, the 9-0 Utah run gave the Utes a comfortable 26-16 lead.

The Utes seemed to dominate the action in the first half, but the Cougars wouldn’t go away, and trailed by only six at the intermission, 30-24.

The game started slowly, with no scoring in the first three and a half minutes of game time. A three-pointer by BYU freshman Mallary Gillespie broke things loose with 16 minutes 25 seconds left in the first period. From there, both teams started to connect from the field-especially from beyond the arc. The two teams finished the first half with four three-pointers each.

Thorburn led all scorers in the first half with 12 points, including two three-pointers. Junior point guard Julie Sullivan led the way for the Cougars in the first half with 6 points.

With no time to relax, the Utes turn their attention to the ever-dangerous Colorado State Rams (14-9, 5-5 MWC). Utah kicks off a three-game road trip to close out the regular season this Saturday when they meet CSU in Fort Collins, Colo. Game time is set for 2 p.m.

The Utes defeated the Rams 68-50 when the two teams played each other on Jan. 13 in the Huntsman Center, but conference road games always pose more of a challenge.

“We’ve only won [in Wyoming] once in the last three years,” Thorburn said. “It’s a tough place to play, it’s always packed, and it’s loud.”

CSU has three players whose scoring averages range in the double-digits, and all three are just juniors. Forwards Melissa Dennett and Lindsay Thomas join point guard Vanessa Espinoza as the trio of juniors who could keep things interesting when the Rams play the Utes.

Dennett leads the Rams in scoring with 14.2 points per game, and Thomas is second on the team with 12.3 points per game. As two of the top forwards in the MWC, both players average 8 rebounds per game.

Espinoza is the third leading scorer for the Rams with an average of 11.5 points. A dangerous perimeter shooter, Espinoza is currently ranked fifth in the MWC in three-point field-goal shooting with an average of 39 percent.

If the Utes take this one lightly, they might be in for an unpleasant surprise.

[email protected]