Utah still in title race, UNLV up next

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

Just two weeks ago, the U women’s basketball team seemed almost untouchable. The Utes were 7-0 in the Mountain West Conference and their five most recent wins were double-digit victories over teams that included BYU and TCU.

Utah was on the verge of busting into the national rankings, and seemed capable of sailing to a perfect league record.

But then the Utes hit an unexpected rough patch, losing three straight contests.

First, the Utes dropped a pair of road games to Wyoming and San Diego State.

Back on their home court, the Utes seemed primed for redemption as they surged into an early 22-6 lead over New Mexico.

But Utah got a little blas and bungled away the lead, eventually losing the game by nine.

The Utes put an end to the three-game skid on Saturday when they beat Colorado State at the Huntsman Center.

But beating CSU, which has won only two conference games in 11 tries, isn’t a huge statement, especially considering the Rams’ recent plight.

Four Rams were suspended indefinitely after setting off a chemical bomb outside a teammate’s door. Among those suspended were leading scorer Kelley Jo Mullaney and starting guard Emily Neal.

Utah beat the troubled Rams by 15, but is this evidence that the Utes are back?

“We have to prove ourselves to probably a better and bigger team that we’re back,” Joh-Teena Filipe said.

On Thursday, the Utes will try to keep the positive momentum flowing when they host UNLV, which is a “very athletic and good rebounding” team, said U head coach Elaine Elliott.

The last time the Utes and Rebels met, Utah had to crawl back in the second half after scoring just 11 points in the opening 20 minutes. Down 18-11 at the break, the Utes redeemed themselves in the second half, taking the game by 12.

Even though the Utes had their unfortunate breakdown, they are still in the thick of the hunt for the conference title, thanks to New Mexico win over BYU on Saturday. New Mexico handed the Cougars their first home loss of the season and their second loss in MWC play.

“Our mentality is to win every game, and hopefully BYU will lose again and we can get right back at the top,” Marie Warner said.

The Utes and Cougars will clash for the second time this season on Feb. 28, in what could end up being a fight for the league title.

But as for now, the Utes have UNLV to think about.

The Rebels are suffering through a three-game losing streak of their own and have not beaten an opponent since Feb. 1, when they bested CSU.

Tip off is Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Huntsman Center.