Done and done

LAS VEGAS-Two Ute seasons effectively came to an end in Sin City over the weekend while the locals were celebrating yet another triumph at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Both the Utah men’s and women’s basketball teams met their ends in Las Vegas, Nev., with the women losing yet another close call to archrival BYU and the men, as expected, getting blown out of the water by tourney host UNLV.

The Rebel men had more than enough celebrating to do in the subsequent days after defeating Utah, as they went on to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament by rallying to defeat scorching-hot BYU, which had won 12 of its previous 13. Meanwhile, in the women’s bracket, the Cougars came up just short as well, falling to the New Mexico Lobos in a surprisingly lopsided affair.

As for the Ute basketball programs, the weekend-and the 2006-2007 season as a whole-marked a pair of turning points. For the men, Thursday’s 80-54 loss to the Rebels marked the final chapter in Ray Giacoletti’s brief stint as U head coach.

“It’s not about me. The team’s the most important thing,” Giacoletti said. “There was no more added pressure one way or the other…it’s new life. (In) conference tournaments all over the country, anything’s possible, in three games, in three days. You got to take one at a time. It’s kind of the gladiator approach: you lose, you’re done.”

But it wasn’t in the cards for the 11-18 Utes, who suffered through (record-wise, at least) their worst season since 1972-1973. A lack of any semblance of a perimeter defense and their erratic tendencies on both sides of the ball doomed them against a UNLV team that pushed the ball and benefited from a raucous home crowd.

Now, Chris Hill and Co. will go back to the drawing board they thought would be in storage for years to come when they hired Giacoletti three years ago. It’s already been reported that former Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery isn’t interested in the Utes’ head-coaching post, leaving the job wide open to scrutiny over the next few weeks.

On the women’s side, the Utes’ up-and-down season was likely a segue between the four years of Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn and the future of Morgan Warburton, Kalee Whipple and Joh-Teena Filipe.

While Warburton, a sophomore, and Whipple, a freshman, both earned all-conference honors this year, the 2006-2007 Ute team was clearly a work in progress. They followed up a seven-game winning streak with three straight losses at the beginning of March. Despite 18 wins, the Utes closed the season by losing three of four, and almost certainly will be relegated to the Women’s NIT. And for a team that came within a whisper of the Final Four last season, that is little more than a consolation prize.

“This year it’s a great match,” U head coach Elaine Elliott said of the chance to participate in the WNIT. “We simply are extremely young. It would be the next step for this team. There’s no disappointment as far as somehow not reaching our goals; we’re not reaching our expectations not to be in the NCAA tournament. It’s a great match for this team–the youth of this team. We would love to have that opportunity.”

The Ute men’s and women’s teams, however, have reputations to uphold. For the men, that reputation is in a state of disrepair after a pair of poor seasons, while the women are merely in a transitional stage. And as transitional stages go, 18-13 and a pair of all-conference players is a pretty impressive way to do it.

Elsewhere in the MWC, the Rebel men and the Lobo women were just hitting their peaks. The UNLV men’s team overcame a 34-point effort from BYU’s MWC Player of the Year Keena Young, and in winning their 28th game of the season, earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they will face off against 10th-seeded Georgia Tech in the Midwest region.

Meanwhile, the Lobo women held the usually high-powered Cougars to just 49 points and rode 20 points from Dionne Marsh to punch their ticket into the women’s NCAA Tournament. The NCAA and WNIT brackets will be announced Monday.

Kim Peterson

Kim Peterson

Luke Nevill struggles to put up a shot against a UNLV defender in the Utes’ Thursday night loss in Las Vegas.