Pit stop

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

The last time the No. 25 New Mexico Lobos lost a conference game on their home court-the always-raucous Pit-people were still talking about the 2002 Winter Olympics in the future tense.

Unafraid of a challenge, the Utes stormed into the intimidating atmosphere of the Pit and snatched a one-point victory over New Mexico in front of 9,500 Lobo faithfuls after falling behind by as many as 14 in the first half.

The win snapped New Mexico’s 16-game home winning streak and gave the Utes their eighth win in their last 10 contests.

“This was the best we played as a team on an emotional level,” said U coach Elaine Elliott, who pulled within one win of the lauded 500-victory mark with the dramatic come-from-behind thriller Sunday afternoon. “They showed maturity tonight that hasn’t always been there. They never hung their heads; they never got into themselves; they really stayed a unit emotionally.”

All of those factors coming together must be great news for Elliott, who has been preaching team play and maturity to her young team all year.

The Utes didn’t start the game in upset mode. In fact, they looked on the verge of getting blown out in the first three minutes when a pesky, full-court pressing New Mexico team jumped out to a 10-0 lead.

There was “no pity going on” over on the Utah bench. Instead, the team was thinking, “OK, 10-0, it’s a long game and we’re here to compete,” Elliott said.

The Utes finally got on the board with a Joh-Teena Filipe lay-up. Utah made up for its dreary start by going on a 13-3 tear at the end of the half, clawing within four points by halftime.

But the high-powered Lobos came out strong in the second half, hitting two threes in the opening minute, which pushed the advantage back to double digits for New Mexico and seized the momentum.

As for the Utes, they opened the half with a three-minute scoring drought. But Morgan Warburton, who finished with 12 points, reinvigorated the team when she banked in a desperation jumper as the shot clock expired, turning what was sure to be a Utah turnover into two points.

Junior Jessica Perry, who finished with 13 points and six rebounds, was everywhere in crunch time. With 6:38 remaining, Perry hit two free throws that brought her team to within two. On the next possession, the 6-foot-3 junior nailed a dramatic three-pointer that shocked the frenzied Lobo fans and gave Utah its first advantage of the game at 45-44.

The Lobos answered with a basket of their own and took back the lead, but Warburton regained it for the Utes by dribbling through traffic and sinking a jumper off the glass.

Back-to-back turnovers plagued the Utes when they needed poise the most. But the Lobos, who shot just 14 percent from the field in the second half, weren’t able to capitalize on Utah’s blunders.

With 1:34 to go, Perry connected on a lay-up, which turned out to be the game-winner.

With the clock winding down to 1:17, point guard Brette Ulsaker went after a loose ball with the tenacity of a defensive lineman hurling his body at a fumble. Ulsaker showed court smarts beyond her freshman status, calling a timeout as New Mexico players closed in on her from all sides.

The Utes couldn’t make the steal productive. Two more Utah turnovers later, the Lobos had the ball and were down by one with 24 seconds to go. With eight seconds remaining, New Mexico’s Brandi Kimball drove to the hoop and met with the strong defense of Filipe. The ball bounced off the rim as a mosh pit formed beneath the basket.

Kimball rebounded her miss and put up another shot but, once again, it bounced off the rim and Utah’s Marie Warner emerged from the fracas with the rebound as time expired.

“A lot of us were overcome with emotions and crying,” said Perry of the dramatic finish.

The Utes will play two more road games against Colorado State and UNLV before heading home to take on TCU on Jan. 18.