Queens of the hardwood: U women earn share of MWC regular-season crown Saturday

Add the women’s basketball teamto the growing list of U teams thathave won conference championshipsthis year.The Utes (23-6, 12-2 MWC)wrapped up their regular seasonSaturday afternoon with a 61-55 victoryover the UNLV Rebels (15-13, 6-8 MWC) and earned a share of theregular season Mountain West ConferenceChampionship. Utah sharesthe honor with New Mexico for thesecond consecutive year.After trailing for most of the game,UNLV made things interesting in thewaning minutes as they overcame anearly 19-point defi cit to pull withinthree points with three minutes toplay. The Rebels had two opportunitiesto tie the game but failed on bothpossessions, and the Utes ultimatelywalked away with the win.U junior Kim Smith scored 25points and grabbed 5 reboundsagainst UNLV to fi nish off the regularseason with back-to-back hugegames. Smith scored a season-high29 points Thursday night againstSan Diego State and followed up thatperformance with another dominatingouting against UNLV.Smith stepped up under the pressureof consecutive must-wins forthe Utes, as any loss would have costthem the conference title. Smith appearsto be a shoo-in for her thirdMWC Player of the Year award.U junior Shona Thorburn fell noticeablyshort of her usual statisticalproduction, but she still manageda solid game from the point guardposition. Thorburn, the conferenceleader in assists, dished out eightassists but also committed fi ve turnovers.Thorburn is the MWC’s scoringleader in games played in conferencewith an average of more than20 points per contest, but she cameup with only fi ve points against theRebels.Utah’s freshmen forwards cameup big against UNLV-somethingthey will need to continue to do ifthe Utes hope to win the conferencetournament. Post players JessicaPerry and Deanne Hanchett combinedfor 20 points, 14 rebounds andthree blocks.The Utes now head to Denverfor the MWC Tournament. Despiteishingtheregularseasoninatiefor theconference championship,the Utes will be seededNo.2whileNewMexicowillbeseededNo.1.NewMexicoreceivesthebetterseedingasaresultofdefeatingtheUtestwice this year.AlthoughtheLobosgetthehigherseeding,theUtesgetthebetterdrawinthefirstround of the tournament. UtahplaystheNo.7seed AirForceAcademy(7-20,2-12MWC)at6 p.m. Wednesday nightwhileNewMexicoplaystheeverdangerousNo.8seedSanDiegoState(8-19,2-12)atnoonWednesday.NewMexicoandUtahappearto be on another collisioncourseforawinner-take-allconference championship. Theloseroftheconferencetourneyis likely to be done with itsseasonwhilethewinnerwillreceiveanautomaticberthinto the NCAA [email protected]