Smith-sonian institution: Player of the Year candidate leads Utes to win over pesky Aztecs

Kim Smith reminded everyone Thursday night why she is the reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. She scored a season-high 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as Utah held off a dangerous San Diego State squad 64-54.

The Utes (22-6, 11-2) won their first in a two-game road trip that will wrap up the regular season while the Aztecs (8-18, 2-11) are left hoping for a No. 7 seed in the conference tournament.

The Utes’ junior point guard Shona Thorburn tallied 17 points and was the only Ute other than Smith to finish with double figures in scoring. U head coach Elaine Elliott said that despite the usual production of Smith and Thorburn, she was disappointed by her team’s overall offensive output.

“On the offensive end, people weren’t distributing the ball,” Elliott said. “Kim and Shona got the job done, but that was it. We are not at our best when that happens.”

SDSU fell behind 33-24 at the half and trailed by as many as 15 before launching a comeback midway through the second half. The Aztecs pulled to within three points with just four minutes remaining, but the conference-leading Utes kept their cool and made a run of their own to finish the game up by 10.

“It’s no surprise that [SDSU] made the game close,” Elliott said. “When you play a team twice in conference it’s always going to be harder. That’s why you don’t see teams going undefeated in conference.”

The Utes wrap up their two-game road trip and close out the regular season Saturday afternoon when they battle conference foe UNLV. The Rebels (16-10, 7-6) are one of the hottest teams in the conference, and they single-handedly prevented the Utes from winning last year’s regular-season conference title.

The Rebels have won 10 straight on their home court and have only suffered three losses at home all season-two of which came against then No. 4 North Carolina and then No. 20 Iowa State.

“They’ll be gunning for us,” said the Utes’ point guard Shona Thorburn. “They’re always ready to play us.”

UNLV is led by junior point guard Sheena Moore and senior forward RanDee Henry. Moore is the MWC’s fourth-leading scorer with an average of 15.2 points and she ranks fifth in the conference with an average of 3.88 assists. Henry, last year’s conference Co-Player of the Year, is the MWC’s second-leading rebounder with 8.4 per contest and fifth in the conference in scoring with an average of 14.6 points.

[email protected]