Smith takes control as U women blast past Air Force

Kim Smith quieted Air Force’s hopes of an early tournament upset Wednesday afternoon, torching the Falcons for 29 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, helping the Utes to a 67-47 victory in the first round of the Mountain West Conference tournament.

Smith tied her season-high in scoring with the 29-point effort and notched her 31st career double-double just two days after being named the MWC Player of the Year for the fourth consecutive season.

“She’s extremely important,” Utah head coach Elaine Elliott said of Smith’s role for the Utes. “I’ve been coaching a long, long time and have never had a player play with the intensity, commitment and relentlessness that she plays with.”

The Utes seemed to have the game under control early in the first half after building a 20-10 lead in the first 11 minutes of the game, but Utah fell into an offensive rut, not scoring for more than six minutes.

The slump allowed the Falcons to pull within two points, but Smith finally broke the drought with a layup with 2:13 left in the period.

“I think it kind of happens every game,” Smith said of the offensive slump. “You’ll go through a stretch where people just aren’t hitting shots. Unfortunately, it was all five of us not hitting shots.”

The Utes came out of their slump by holding Air Force scoreless for the remainder of the half, taking a 28-18 lead into the locker room.

Utah then rolled out to a 47-25 lead after outscoring the Falcons 19-7 in the first 10 minutes of second-half action and never really gave Air Force a chance to come back.

Jessica Perry turned in a solid performance for the Utes with 13 points, and Shona Thorburn added nine points, 11 assists and six rebounds.

Freshman Sasha McKinnon also showed that the Utes have yet another 3-point threat on the team, as she nailed all three of her 3-point attempts, scoring a career-high nine points in seven minutes of action.

The Utes were also given a little help from UNLV just two hours after beating Air Force, as the sixth-seeded Rebels stunned New Mexico 57-45, knocking the reigning MWC Champions out of the tournament.

The Utes had been beaten by New Mexico in the last two MWC tournaments and have had a much better match up with UNLV this season, winning both meetings.

The Utes and Rebels will meet for the MWC semifinals at 11 a.m. at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

The game will be aired live on CSTV.