Women’s hoops meets Cougs with title on the line

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

For Ute fans whose hearts start pumping with anticipation and school pride at the mere thought of playing BYU for a championship, the U women’s basketball team’s showdown with the Cougars couldn’t be scripted any better.

Utah (17-10, 10-4 MWC) is one game behind BYU (20-7, 11-3 MWC) in the Mountain West Conference standings with two games left on the schedule.

Tonight, the Utes will invade the Cougars’ home court where they will try to overtake the league’s summit. If the Utes beat BYU and then defeat Wyoming at the Huntsman Center in their season finale, Utah will capture the MWC tournament’s No. 1 seed and win the hallowed regular-season title.

The chance to win the regular season crown is an unexpected development considering that the Utes recently emerged from a three-game slump that appeared to put them out of contention.

But when BYU fell in overtime to UNLV on Feb. 21, the door leading to glory swung wide open for the Utes.

“I try not to be surprised because you always want to believe in all possibilities,” U head coach Elaine Elliott said. “I am very pleased?at how this group has taken itself to a championship run in the last week. That’s exciting.”

“I feel like it doesn’t get any better,” Elliott said of going up against Utah’s archrival for all the marbles. “I also feel like the pressure’s on them.”

The last time the teams met, the Utes hammered the Cougars 64-54 at the Huntsman Center.

“I think that team (that beat the Cougars by 10 on Jan. 27) was a little more focused than we’ve been these last three weeks,” Elliott said. “My hope is that that goes away with the importance of the week and, I mean, how can you not be really intense (playing for a championship)?”

The Utes will probably need a big game out of Morgan Warburton, who averages 16.1 points per game, if they want to beat BYU at the Marriott Center. The supporting cast of Kalee Whipple, Joh-Teena Filipe and Marie Warner will also be key to the Utes’ success on the road.

BYU’s Mallary Gillespie, who has been named MWC Player of the Week three times this season, is averaging 13.5 points for the Cougars.

“(Gillespie is) playing a lot more aggressively?she’s willing to try to go get more shots than she was earlier in the conference (schedule),” Elliott said. “If she gets open, she can win games for them.”

As for the Utes’ overall strategy, Elliott said, “I just want the kids to bring it. Bring their emotions, bring their focus, and we’ll take whatever happens.”

Tip-off is slated for 8 p.m. tonight at the Marriott Center in Provo.

Tyler Cobb

The Utes travel to Provo tonight to face the rival Cougars. A win tonight and another against Wyoming on Saturday would mean an MWC title for the Utes.