Women’s hoops wins opener

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

The women’s edition of the Runnin’ Utes are off and running.

Utah demolished UC Irvine, 91-50, in its season opener in a game that more closely resembled an exhibition game than a typical regular-season matchup.

The Utes’ performance had a mid-season quality to it. Power forward Katie King believes it’s because the Utes had such a productive off-season.

“We’ve been coming together really well in preseason and in practice,” said King, who scored 17 points her Division-I debut. “We mesh very well together.”

The Utes, led by wings Morgan Warburton and Kalee Whipple, pulled away early in the game with a 10-0 lead in the opening minutes. The Utes scored at will against the Anteaters and had little trouble putting the game out of reach early. Four Utes scored in double figures as they sailed to a 41-point win.

“I think this gives our team a whole bunch of confidence knowing that UC Irvine is a great team,” Whipple said.

Whipple was the definition of “on fire” Thursday night, shooting 9-of-9 for 27 points.

Warburton added 16 points and four steals. The junior did most of her damage driving to the hoop, putting the ball off the glass and taking short jumpers. Whipple hit shots from a variety of spots, including three from beyond the arc.

King, who transferred from SLCC, played impressively for a Division-I rookie. The 6-foot-1 junior chipped in 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting with seven rebounds in 23 minutes on the floor.

“Katie is just solid,” Elliott said. “It’s so important that we get that from our post. That’s her role — solid play, finish when we get you the ball, get boards, don’t turn it over.”

The Utes repeatedly benefited from the speed of senior point guard Leilani Mitchell, who tore down the lane and dished off to teammates for easy buckets. Mitchell recorded 13 turnovers while turning the ball over only three times.

Senior center Jessica Perry added 15 points and 10 rebounds in an effort reminiscent of her sophomore year, when she posted the best numbers of her career.

The Utes outscored UC Irvine 47-23 in the first half. Warburton had 16 first-half points on 7-of-8 shooting. Utah shot 64.3 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.

Elliott likely would’ve called off the dogs and cleared her bench, but the Utes don’t have too much depth. With only nine healthy players on the roster, practically every player in a Utah jersey logged significant minutes.

On Sunday, the Utes will face arguably their toughest test of the season when No. 5 Stanford pays a visit to the Huntsman Center. Stanford is a perennial women’s basketball powerhouse.

The 41-point blowout gives the Utes a huge confidence boost as they head into the Stanford game.

“Our team is ready,” Whipple said. “We want to play big schools that are ranked in the nation to show what Utah really has to offer. We’re ready.”

Tipoff is at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Utah announced new additions to next year’s women’s basketball squad as four players signed letters of intent.

Janita Badon from Portland, Ore., is an athletic point guard that adds depth to the position.

Mandy Munns is a 6-foot-3 center out of Brigham City. According to Elliott, Munns is a “big, strong player.”

Iwalani Rodrigues is a 5-foot-9 guard from Ewa Beach, Hawaii.

“Iwalani is a pure shooter who possesses exceptional athleticism,” Elliot said.

Hannah Stephens is a 5-foot-8 guard from San Mateo, Calif., that will give the Utes “flexibility with her ability to play both guard positions.”

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Lennie Mahler

Deanne Stevenson scores on a layup Thursday night in the Utes’ win against UC Irvine.