Utes can’t take Jackrabbits lightly

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

Tonight the U women’s basketball team is set to play its first game on the mainland since winning two of three in the Oahu Classic during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Next up for the Utes is South Dakota State at the Huntsman Center tonight.

Less-informed women’s basketball fans might wonder, “Who is South Dakota State?” Head coach Elaine Elliott knows exactly who the Jackrabbits are.

“(South Dakota State) is a high RPI (Rating Percentage Index) team,” Elliott said. “They finished in the Top-40 in the country last year.”

Elliott, now in her 25th year as Utah’s head coach, compared South Dakota State to Marist, a team that edged out the Utes in overtime on Nov. 22. Both are talented teams that are often overlooked because they are in small conferences, Elliott said.

South Dakota State, a member of the Summit League — also home to Southern Utah University — is in its fourth season as a Division-I program and finished last season with a 25-6 record.

South Dakota State’s impressive run earned it a trip to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, where the Jackrabbits beat Illinois State and Indiana, advancing to the quarterfinals where they stumbled against eventual champion Wyoming.

“They are very good,” Elliott said of the Jackrabbits. “We’ve got our hands full.”

This season, the Jackrabbits (6-1) have enjoyed wins over Oregon, Missouri, UC Riverside and Arkansas State. Their one bump in the road came last week as a five-point loss to George Washington, a team ranked No. 15 in the AP poll and No. 17 in the coaches’ poll. Tonight will mark the first meeting between the Utes and a well-rounded South Dakota State team.

Five Jackrabbits average in double figures, and Stacie Oistad leads the team with 19.0 points per contest.

The Utes are coming off two straight wins over Akron and Nebraska. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Huntsman Center.

Notes: Point guard Lelani Mitchell was named MWC co-Player of the Week for her performance in the Oahu Classic over Thanksgiving weekend. Mitchell had back-to-back 24-point games. Morgan Warburton averaged 14 points in Hawaii and was named to the all-tournament team as a result. The Utes put their two-game winning streak on the line tonight.

Utah’s record against current Summit League members is 12-1, with 10 of those wins coming against Southern Utah University.

[email protected]

Lennie Mahler