Title quest: U women’s basketball opens play in the MWC Tourney against Air Force

The U women’s basketball team opens play in the Mountain West Conference Tournament in Denver on Wednesday at 6 p.m. when they face the Air Force Academy for the third time this year.

The Utes (23-6, 12-2 MWC) come into the tournament as the No. 2 seed after tying the New Mexico Lobos for the regular-season conference title. The Falcons (7-20, 2-12 MWC) enter the tournament as the No. 7 seed after what amounted to a decent season, at least when compared with the paltry results of Falcon teams of the past.

If history is any guide, the Utes should dispatch the Falcons with ease. In the two regular-season games played between Utah and Air Force this year, the Utes nearly doubled the point production of the Falcons.

Utah won the first game of the series on the road in mid-January, 97-47. Not only was 97 the most points the Utes scored during the entire regular season, but 50 points was also their largest margin of victory. In the second game between the two teams, the Utes walked away with another easy win, 74-45. The Utes won the two games by a combined 79 points.

“We played well the first two times we played [Air Force],” said U head coach Elaine Elliott. “So hopefully we will be able to do that again.”

Elliott said the Utes won’t be taking the Falcons lightly, regardless of what happened in the first two games between these teams.

“This is the best team they’ve ever had,” Elliott said.

“We knew that at the beginning of the year. Just because we already beat them twice doesn’t mean we’re going to give them any less respect.”

U junior Kim Smith agreed and said overlooking the Falcons could be dangerous.

“This time of year every team poses a problem,” Smith said.

“For a lot of teams, this is their last shot at making a run, so they’re going to be playing their best. We have to take [Air Force] seriously, or we could lose.”

Smith, who tallied a combined 29 points and 19 rebounds in the two games against the Falcons this year, said that after a strong finish to the regular season (the Utes won nine of their last 10 games) the Utes will be ready to play.

“We feel really good right now,” Smith said. “We played well against UNLV, and we feel like we’re ready for the postseason. This is what you play for all year long, and we’re excited.”

Should the Utes defeat the Falcons Wednesday, they will have Thursday off and then a game against the winner of the BYU-UNLV game at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

[email protected]