Roundball rumblers back on the hardwood tonight

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

Last year, the players of the U women’s basketball team had a pretty firm grip on the game plan: Get the ball to Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn.

But this year is different. With Smith and Thorburn out of the picture, Utah’s role players must shed the prefix “role” and start seeing themselves as scoring threats and leaders.

For the players, who are accustomed to playing third or fourth fiddle in the Smith and Thorburn orchestra, it’s a big adjustment.

It makes perfect sense that the Utes have floundered a bit early on. Individually, they were the LeBron Jameses of their high schools, but then they came to Utah and became simple cast members in the Kim-and-Shona show.

But that has changed. If the shellacking the Utes inflicted upon a confused and royally outplayed Weber State team Wednesday means anything, the 2006-2007 Utes are beginning to claim this team as their own.

While some squads can be successful with an ensemble cast, it helps to have a couple of leaders to direct traffic on the court, keep morale up and administer those all-too-important slaps on the butt.

Sophomore Joh-Teena Filipe, who scored 14 points and corralled 11 rebounds in the Weber State game, believes she can be that leader.

After soaking up the message of a motivational speech that the women’s basketball team and other college athletes attended, Filipe said she felt inspired.

“(The speaker) focused on leadership,” she said. “I realized that was something that was missing on the team, and I realized I could fill that role.”

Filipe’s plan? To “be vocal on the court, be positive and be able to lift people up while they’re down.”

Filipe will lead her team tonight as the Utes challenge the visiting Long Beach State 49ers, a team that is off to an ugly start. Long Beach State, which starts three freshmen, has earned a big goose egg in the wins column. At 0-5, they’re desperate for a win tonight.

Only two Long Beach State players–Karina Figueroa and Lauren Sims–average in double figures, and just barely. Figueroa finds the bucket for 11.6 points per outing while Sims adds 10. The Utes might as well not guard Figueroa on the perimeter, where she’s a paltry 1-of-13. But they’ll definitely want to get a hand in Sims’ face when she launches a triple–Sims is shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc on 8-of-20 shooting.

Still, that’s not a lot of output compared with the steady scoring of Morgan Warburton, Filipe, Kalee Whipple and Jessica Perry–two or more of which usually have a breakout night for the Utes.

But Long Beach State is no stranger to winning. Last year, the 49ers were co-champs of the Big West. The core of that winning unit is long gone and the team features eight true freshmen.

If any factor could hurt Utah, you’d think it’d be turnovers. But the Utes threw the ball away a season-low 10 times against Weber State.

“We prize every possession,” Whipple said of her team’s newfound emphasis on taking care of the ball.

Tip-off is at 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.

Kim Peterson

Kalee Whipple fights a Fresno State opponent for a loose ball Nov. 13 in the Huntsman Center. The Utes play the Long Beach State 49ers tonight at 7 p.m.