Neck and neck: U women’s basketball locked in a battle for the conference crown

With only two games left in the regular season, the U women’s basketball team is poised to win the regular season Mountain West Conference title. The only problem is that they will probably have to share it with New Mexico.

The Utes (21-6, 10-2 MWC) are in the same position as last year-tied for the conference title but unable to do anything to stop the Lobos (21-4, 10-2 MWC) from winning their last two games. If both the Utes and the Lobos win their last two games, they are guaranteed of at least a share of the conference championship-a title the two teams shared last year as well.

Winning a share of the regular season conference title might not sound like a problem, but it could be for the Utes, who would like to end their season somewhere in the NCAA Tournament.

Last year the Utes failed to win the regular season conference title outright, and then they lost to New Mexico in the finals of the conference tournament. In the end, the NCAA Tournament Committee snubbed them after posting a 24-7 record.

U junior Shona Thorburn said winning the next two games is important because if the Utes don’t win at least a share of the regular season conference title, they can forget about the NCAA Tournament.

“After my experiences last year, I would have to say that it’s definitely a possibility that if we don’t win at least a share of the conference title and the conference tournament we probably won’t make it into the NCAA Tournament,” Thorburn said.

U head coach Elaine Elliott said that qualifying for the NCAA Tournament wasn’t the only concern. Considering the winning tradition at the U, failing to win the regular-season conference crown could be hard for her team to deal with.

“[The MWC regular season title] means a great deal to the kids that have won it in the past,” Elliott said. “Whether it’s fair or not, they end up looking at the conference title as a standard, and anything less can be hard to accept.”

Thorburn, who leads the conference in assists, said that despite the importance of the next two games, the Utes shouldn’t look at them any differently than they would any other games.

“It’s hard to say the next two games are more important than the others,” Thorburn said. “But it would be nice to go into the conference tournament with two more wins under our belt, 12-2 overall. And whether that means we end up in a tie with New Mexico or not-we can’t really worry about that right now.”

Elliott said the Utes have generated too much momentum lately to mess anything up by changing the team’s routine.

“The last couple of weeks we’ve seen improved performance, and we don’t want that to change,” Elliott said.

Not wanting to affect a formula that has helped the Utes win seven of their last eight, Elliott said she will use the same approach she has used all season long.

“You have to treat the next two games the same way you treat the rest of them,” Elliott said. “You don’t want to put any extraneous pressure on the kids that might end up as a negative factor.”

Utah finishes its season with road games against San Diego State and UNLV. The Utes face the Aztecs Thursday night and the Rebels Saturday afternoon.

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