Women’s Hoops: Purdue defeats Utah in opening round

By By Natalie Dicou and By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A potential matchup between women’s college basketball coaching veterans Pat Summitt and Elaine Elliott won’t happen — at least not this year. The Utes’ season came to an abrupt conclusion Sunday night when the hometown Purdue Boilermakers knocked the Utes out of the NCAA tournament, crushing hopes of a second-round matchup against Summit and No. 1 Tennessee.

The eighth-seeded Utes fell 66-59 in a nail-biter after leading 29-28 at the half.

It was a decidedly unsatisfying way for Utah to finish the season considering that just two weeks ago it was still riding a 22-game winning streak. A pair of postseason losses put a damper on a record-breaking season.

“It’s hard,” said senior guard Leilani Mitchell, who finished with 14 points and nine assists. “We came in with the expectation to win. It’s not fun. All season, we were kind of just waiting for the postseason and then to go 0-2 is frustrating, but we played with great effort and we played hard. We still had a great season.”

Morgan Warburton tied the score at 52 on a 3-pointer with 7:33 to go, but Utah fell behind with 6:43 remaining and never recovered.

The same shooting woes that caused the Utes to bow out of the MWC tournament ahead of schedule in Las Vegas once again afflicted them down the stretch against Purdue. Late in the game, the Utes missed several point-blank put-backs that could’ve kept them in it.

Meanwhile, Purdue lit it up from behind the arc, drilling 4-of-5 3-pointers in the second half.

Early on, Warburton and Kalee Whipple — who together average 31.9 points per game this season — had yet to emerge from the shooting funk they fell into during the painfully short MWC tournament. Both players started out 1-of-4 from the field, and by halftime they had combined to shoot 4-of-11.

Warburton finished with a game-high 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting and Whipple went 3-of-11.

Mitchell, playing in her final college game, kept the Utes in the game early on. The Kennewick, Wash., native scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and dished out five assists in the first half, but shot just 2-of-7 in the latter half. Mitchell finished with 14 points and nine assists.

The game showcased teams headed in opposite directions. Purdue was on the upswing after winning the Big Ten tournament while the Utes were still trying to live down their baffling loss to Colorado State.

It didn’t help matters that the game was held at Purdue, where the Boilermakers went 11-3 during the regular season in front of thousands of Purdue faithful. With the win, the Boilermakers embark on their 12th consecutive foray into the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Despite the disappointing end, Elliott is a changed person from when she started out this year following the desertion of four Ute players last April.

“After you’ve been doing something for 30 years you can get a little jaded and a little less than enthusiastic — the players changed that,” the veteran coach said. “I had a great, fun time with these players this year. I thanked them for taking me along on the ride, and that’s what you have to remember.”

Elliott firmly believes that the way it ended is not indicative of the caliber of team Utah had this season.

“I’m not going to let people talk about the Colorado State game and this game as some sort of measure of anything,” Elliott said. “It just isn’t.”

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Associated Press

Kalee Whipple attempts to knock the rebound away from Purdue guard Kalika France. Whipple pulled down 9 of Utah’s 35 rebounds, but Purdue beat the Utes knocking them out of the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.