Brigham bound

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

The Utah/BYU rivalry has rarely been friendly, but never has it been more heated than the current spat between the schools’ women’s basketball teams. And tomorrow afternoon at the Huntsman Center, the Utes and Cougars will renew their bitter feud–with a twist.

In addition to bragging rights, Utah and BYU will be playing for the early lead in the Mountain West title race. Both the Utes and the Cougars are undefeated in conference play, and the winner of tomorrow’s showdown will claim sole possession of first place.

“A win Saturday would be big because it would give us more confidence for the rest of the season,” said sophomore guard Morgan Warburton. “We’re trying to focus on the game, not the rivalry or what happened last year.”

For those who don’t remember, the last meeting between the Utes and the Cougars was marred by trash talk and allegations of poor sportsmanship that involved everyone from the benchwarmers to the coaches. BYU head coach Jeff Judkins even called the Utes “unclassy” for “running up the score.”

It wasn’t a particularly bright moment for either program, and as a result the 2007 Utes are determined to keep the game in context and learn whatever they can from this early season rivalry match up.

“If we lose, that will just motivate us to work even harder,” said Warburton. “There is still a lot of basketball to be played, and in our conference almost anything can happen. Any team can come in and take someone out.”

The Utes are living proof that a season need not start and end on the same note. After starting out with a disappointing 1-4 record, the 13-6 Utes have gone 12-2 and are winners of their last six.

Warburton, in spite of her youth, is one of the big reasons for the Utes’ sudden turnaround. The Helper, Utah native has come into her own as a scoring threat, and leads the team with 15.1 points per game. She also averages nearly four assists per contest.

“I think I finally realized what I need to do to be successful,” said Warburton. “At the beginning of the season I wasn’t used to people counting on me to score. Now I’m more accustomed to the role that the team expects me to play.”

Warburton and the rest of Utah’s shooters will have to be at the top of their game if they hope to keep pace with BYU’s tandem of Mallary Gillespie and Dani Wright, both of whom average nearly 13 points per game.

The Cougars’ offense, which relies on sharp outside shooters and dominant play in the paint, presents unique challenges for Warburton and company. Much of this week’s practice has been dedicated to playing fundamentally sound defense and preventing open shots from beyond the arc.

“We’re going to have to work together, to play good team defense,” said sophomore forward Joh-Teena Filipe. “They have good outside shooters and good post players, so we’re going to have to help each other out.”

Christopher Peddecord

Halie Sawyer tangles with Air Force defense Saturday as the Utes shut out the Falcons 80-59. Utah and BYU, the only MWC teams with undefeated conference records, square off this Saturday at the Huntsman Center at 1 p.m.