Utes net 2 of 3 in Hawaii

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

While the rest of the student body braved the chilly weather, the U women’s basketball team enjoyed a weekend in Hawaii. But the Utes, who played three games in three days, didn’t have much time to lounge on the beach.

In an extended weekend of back-to-back-to-back games, the Utes picked up wins against Akron and Nebraska, but not before narrowly falling to Marist in overtime.

The Utes (3-2) have yet to be outscored in regulation. Both of their losses (to then-No. 5 Stanford and Marist) came in overtime. Stanford has since climbed to No. 4.

None of the three teams Utah played against in the Oahu Classic are ranked in the Top-25, but two have received votes in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.

“This was a really big win for us because both Marist and Nebraska are receiving votes,” head coach Elaine Elliott said after a 56-44 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. “Nebraska, out of the Big 12, will get great (ratings percentage index) numbers and beat some people.”

In Saturday’s game against the Cornhuskers, the Utes led for most of the game. Late in the second half, Nebraska made a run.

“They basically had one stretch (where) they hit some shots with about 12 minutes to go,” Elliott said.

Now in her 25th year as head coach of the Utes, Elliott knew just how to reassure her troops.

“Listen,” she told her team. “Don’t panic. That’s their run. We didn’t think they’re going to do it for 12 minutes — and they didn’t.”

The Utes composed themselves and went on to pull out a 12-point win.

In the tournament opener on Thanksgiving, the Utes didn’t finish out their opponent as well.

“It still sort of stings because that was our game,” Elliott said two days after falling to Marist, 81-77. “We totally did not finish out a game that we led the entire time.”

At one point during the first half of the Marist game, the Utes held a 20-9 advantage, but the Red Foxes rallied late in the second half and forced overtime.

Elliott lamented the loss but thinks that Marist is “very, very, very good.” Overall, Elliott was pleased with how Utah played in the tournament. “We played two very strong teams and managed to split, and that’s good. We certainly would not have wanted to go 0-2 against them if we could’ve helped it.”

Utah’s big three stepped up throughout the tournament. Point guard Leilani Mitchell averaged 20.3 points. The senior also chipped in 4.7 assists.

Shooting guard Morgan Warburton averaged 14 points while Kalee Whipple added another 13 per game.

Whipple, a sophomore, played her best game of the tournament in the finale against Nebraska. The sophomore had 18 points and 10 rebounds, notching her first double-double of the young season.

In game two, the Utes met up with Akron. After sinking into an eight-point hole, Utah turned the game around and went on to win 71-60.

Whipple believes that getting away from Salt Lake City has helped the team mature.

“I think it helps to come and play on a neutral court because we’ve had all home games so far,” Whipple said. “(It’s nice) to know that we’re growing, and we’re getting there quick.”

Thanks to the Utes’ near-miss against Stanford a week ago, they have found their way — if not into the national spotlight — at least onto the radar screen.

Utah, like Nebraska and Marist, is also receiving votes in the two major polls (six in the AP and eight in the coaches’ poll).

The Utes are back in action on the mainland Wednesday when they take on South Dakota State at the Huntsman Center. The tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Teresa Getten

Kalee Whipple races down the court in a fast-break last week against Stanford. Whipple scored 18 points and snagged 10 rebounds against Nebraska in the final game of the Oahu Classic in Hawaii on Saturday.