Utes ground Air Force

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

The Air Force women’s basketball team continued its dreary trudge through league play Saturday afternoon, suffering through yet another beating. This time it was Utah delivering the knockout blows in an 80-59 victory over the Falcons.

The Utes (13-6, 6-0 MWC) are on quite a tear. After being picked to finish fourth in the MWC in a preseason poll and then losing four out of its first five contests, it looked as if the Utes were headed for one of those boring “rebuilding years” in which freshmen are deprogrammed of their faulty teachings and prepared for the intensity of the college game.

Didn’t happen. Utah’s freshmen showed up ready to compete at the college level and almost immediately became vital contributors.

On Saturday, freshman Kalee Whipple–looking like a seasoned pro–scored 24 points and corralled five rebounds–a key performance in the Utes’ victory.

“She is just getting better and more confident,” coach Elaine Elliott said. “She’s going to be a good little player.”

If the Utes didn’t start off where last year’s Elite Eight team left off, they have at least kept the program headed in a positive direction.

When lackluster Air Force–a team that is 0-22 all-time against the Utes–came to town Saturday, Utah had a few options: Play great, win by 30; play OK, win by 20; play poorly, win by 10. As it happened, the Utes played a decent all-around game and easily beat the Academy by 21.

But Utah lacked energy during much of the first half–and understandably so. Utah’s last few games have been emotion-packed contests soaked in meaning. Elliott tallied her career’s 500th victory against CSU, and Utah beat two nationally ranked teams: No. 25 New Mexico and No. 23 TCU.

On Saturday, the Utes played a team that has never even gotten a whiff of beating them–only one of Utah’s 22 wins over the Falcons was decided by fewer than 10 points.

With all the excitement on hold until next week when Utah challenges BYU–also undefeated in conference action if it tops San Diego State on Thursday–the Air Force game was the perfect recipe for a letdown.

And, indeed, the Utes came out flat-footed and low on passion.

Elliott addressed her team’s humdrum start. “They got out-intensified in the first 10 minutes. I thought Air Force really came hard at them,” Elliott said, adding, “But they responded.”

Junior Marie Warner, who chipped in 17 points to her team’s winning effort, summed up Utah’s start.

“We started out flat and then we just realized: You know what? It doesn’t matter who we play–we have to play well against everyone,” Warner said. “Anybody in this conference is good. We’re all good. We have to come out and play strong.”

With 7:38 remaining in the first half, the Falcons were still hanging around. With a score of 21-20, fans were bracing themselves for an unexpected barnburner.

“The Falcons play so hard,” Elliott said. “They just really pursue the ball. At times, we matched that intensity. At times, we didn’t.”

With 5:26 remaining in the first half, the Utes had a three-point edge. But Utah went on an offensive rampage in the final minutes of the half. By the time the halftime buzzer rang, the Utes had effectively pulled away. Up 40-24, they would never be caught.

Unable to recover from the scoring flurry, Air Force fell behind by as many as 23 in the second half.

Steady Morgan Warburton scored 13 points on three-of-seven shooting.

“We played more good than bad in terms of our play,” Elliott said. “That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Elliott will work on stemming complacency this week as the Utes prepare to take on BYU on Saturday.

Christopher Peddecord

Kalee Whipple attempts one of 13 field goals as the Utes blowout Air Force 80-59 in the Huntsman Center on Saturday.