Women’s Hoops: Aztecs’ feistiness nearly halts Utes

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego State women’s basketball team gave Utah all it could handle Saturday afternoon, but the No. 19 Utes composed themselves and picked up their 16th-straight win.

The Aztecs caused Utah a lot of problems in the first half with an aggressive full-court press, but a stronger second half helped the Utes secure a 63-51 win.

“This was not a pretty game,” said Utah head coach Elaine Elliot. “(SDSU) didn’t play well either. It was just not a well-played game. I was disturbed by our lack of intelligence in the game. The places that we took the ball, that we inbounded, were very disturbing to me.”

The Utes (21-3, 10-0 in MWC) average 14 turnovers a game — by halftime against the Aztecs, they had already coughed up the ball 13 times. The miscues caused Utah to go into the half facing a two-point deficit at 26-24. It was the fifth time this season that the Utes trailed at halftime.

“That press really caused some problems for us,” said senior Leilani Mitchell, who had 15 points and eight assists. “We weren’t playing tough, and we weren’t taking care of the ball.”

San Diego State’s full-court pressure proved problematic for the Utes in the opening half, but a different, more intense Utah team took the floor in the second half.

“I think (their press) just kind of caught us off guard,” said sophomore Kalee Whipple, who pulled down 11 rebounds and was one of three Utes to score 15 points. Morgan Warburton also had 15 points.

Elliott used her halftime peptalk to challenge the Utah players “to get their heads in the game.”

“I feel like we can respond,” Elliott said. “I feel like we’re a good second-half team because I think, most of the time, we’re good enough to say (that) the reason we’re in this predicament is in our own heads. So, it gives us a chance to challenge (the team) to be better prepared in the second half.”

Elliott’s pep talk appeared to work. In the second half, the Utes threw the ball away five times. The cutdown in giveaways helped Utah start the half on a 15-3 run. The Aztecs (13-10, 4-7 in MWC) made just one field goal in the first 11 minutes of the second half.

All five Utah starters scored during that crucial stretch, and the Aztecs were not able to recover.

Turnovers weren’t the only thing that made the going ugly. The Utes shot 38.5 percent from the field. Such inaccurate shooting is rare for the typically hot-shooting Utes, who lead the MWC in field goal percentage. Saturday’s game was the second time this season that the Utes shot below 40 percent, the other being at USC, one of Utah’s three losses.

As for the Aztecs, it didn’t help their cause that Jené Morris, the MWC’s current leading scorer at 18.1 points, was held to 13 points.

The target on Utah’s back gets bigger. With the win, the Utes tied the second-longest winning streak in school history. The Utes also hold the second-longest winning streak in the country this season. Only Chattanooga, which has won 17 consecutive contests, has a longer streak.

The Utes host rival BYU on a rare Tuesday-night tilt at the Huntsman Center.

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