High-seed rollers

LAS VEGAS — No major surprises just yet. Everything went pretty much according to plan on the first day of the women’s MWC Tournament on Wednesday. Top-seed BYU is advancing to Friday’s second round, along with Wyoming and New Mexico.

But the closest game of the night, fittingly, was the No. 4-No. 5 match-up between the Horned Frogs and the Utes. And after a stunning turnaround on the part of the Frogs, Kalee Whipple played the hero for the U as the Utes escaped the first round with a last-second thriller.

Just seconds after TCU took a one-point lead, Whipple scored a layup in the middle of the lane to give Utah a 68-67 win. The shot rolled slowly around the rim before softly dramatically dropping through the hoop, earning the Utes another shot at BYU in Friday’s second round.

Despite losing Co-MWC Player of the Year Dani Wright to a sprained ankle early on, the Cougars’ Wednesday afternoon couldn’t have gone any easier. Facing off against an Air Force team that had to win a play-in game Tuesday night in order to get to Wednesday’s first round, the Cougars imposed their will early and walked off the floor with an unsurprising blowout.

Tied at 10 early on, the Cougars exploded for a 19-0 run that all but put the game away before the first-half whistle had even sounded. Junior guard Mallary Gillespie more than picked up the slack in the absence of Wright, who played just two minutes before leaving. Gillespie scored 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the floor and added five assists. Melinda Johnsen added eight points and a team-high six dimes as the Cougs cruised to a 72-40 victory.

“Of course, losing Dani Wright early in the game was a scary moment. But I think you saw tonight that we have other players that can step it up,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. “I thought a couple players realized they had to do a little bit more offensively?(Gillespie and Johnsen) I think really took it upon themselves to look a little bit more at the basket.”

But that was just the cherry for the Cougars, who dominated the Falcons on the defensive side of the ball. BYU’s D clogged up the low post and afforded the Falcons precious little room on the perimeter, holding the Academy to just 28 percent shooting from the floor. Alecia Steele led the Falcons with 12 points (the only AFA player to reach double figures), but she shot just 4-of-12 from the field.

“Today, we started out good, and then we lost focus,” Steele said. “We didn’t make smart decisions. Basically that’s what happened. The team that was there last night was not there tonight.”

The first game of Wednesday’s quadruple dip was an odd showdown between the second-seeded Cowgirls and No. 7 San Diego State — odd because the first half couldn’t have possibly been more different from the second.

The first 20 minutes were likely as sloppy as any that will be played at the tournament all week. The favored Cowgirls shot made just four shots in the entire first half, in 25 attempts. And still, they found themselves down by just three, 17-14. They quickly put that bit of poor play behind them, tripling their first-half output in the second stanza en route to a 56-44 win over the Aztecs.

“San Diego State (is) really intense on defense. There were some nerves on our part,” Wyoming forward Hanna Zavecz said. “A mixture of the both led to our poor shooting. They were getting us out of our game. But we turned things around in the second half and were more relaxed.”

The second game of the night was nearly as lopsided as BYU’s victory later in the evening. The No. 3-seeded Lobos trashed the Rebels on their home floor. A scorching New Mexico offense made it a lopsided affair, as Dionne Marsh led four Lobos in double-figures with 19 en route to an 80-52 victory. The team shot 58 percent from the field as a whole, taking the Rebels out of the game early to advance. Now, the team gets a day off before facing Wyoming on Friday afternoon.