Utes host WNIT, try to keep the season alive

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

The U women’s basketball team was ousted from the MWC Tournament by BYU on Thursday. But luckily for the Utes, they won’t have to finish the season by falling to their archrivals.

Tonight, the Utes host Montana in round one of the Women’s NIT at the Huntsman Center.

Montana (27-3, 15-1) is a team that probably belongs in the NCAA tournament. If selection committees didn’t focus so much on conference tournaments and instead examined more closely the overall season, the Montana Grizzlies would be a shoo-in.

Montana features a deadly backcourt. Five-foot-nine guard Mandy Morales averages 20.1 points and shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc. Five-foot-seven guard Sonya Rogers adds another 11 a game.

For U head coach Elaine Elliott, time is ticking. She didn’t get her hands on a tape of one of Montana’s games until yesterday.

“We’ve been playing (Montana head coach) Robin Selvig for a lot of years, so it’s the same,” Elliott said. “He keeps turning out good players, same systems, same offenses, same defenses, so in that regard, we know what to expect. It’s just hard for us to have just one day to prepare. We would like to feel like we can help our young kids as much as possible. The short turnaround is not my preference, but players have to play anyway.”

The Utes will have to put the MWC Tournament behind them and quickly focus on the challenge at hand. And that challenge is a daunting one.

Just take a look at some of the teams the Grizzlies have gotten the better of this season.

Wyoming, which was the second seed in the MWC Tournament, fell to Montana twice this year. Montana came out on top over Wyoming by deficits of 11 and seven. The Utes lost both games to Wyoming this season. Montana also beat Gonzaga by 10 and Washington State by 11.

“There are probably some disappointed teams that didn’t make it,” U guard Morgan Warburton said.

Every core player except Heidi Carlsen will return to the Utes next season.

“We can start working on things we really need to work for the next year (during the WNIT),” Warburton said. “(The tournament) gives you a second chance to end the year in a better way because, you know, I didn’t want to end it at BYU.”

The game is at the Huntsman Center today at 7 p.m. If the Utes win, they will play Illinois on the Illini home court.