Women’s Hoops: Record-setting season good starting point

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

For the U women’s basketball team, 2008 will be a year remembered for its exhilarating highs (going undefeated in MWC play and reaching No. 12 in the rankings) and crushing lows (losing both of its postseason games). Indeed, it was a rollercoaster for the Utes, who finished at 27-5.

Utah’s regular season, which included a 22-game winning streak, was the best in team history and brimmed with potential from the get-go.

Early in the season, the Utes fell in double-overtime to then-5th-ranked Stanford, a team that would go on to reach the national championship game before losing to Tennessee.

Even though it was a loss, it seemed like a promising sign — the Utes could play with anybody.

During the season, Utah earned notable wins over nationally ranked Wyoming (twice) and started out with a 22-0 lead over reigning conference champ BYU, embarrassing the Cougars on their home court.

As the wins mounted, Utah coach Elaine Elliott marveled at how her team didn’t wilt under the pressure of the winning streak. She said she had never coached a mentally tougher team.

Elliott uttered those words mere days before the breakdown, which happened at the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas.

In front of a shocked crowd, the seemingly unstoppable top-seeded Utes lost to Colorado State, a team that went 0-16 in the MWC. It was the beginning of the end.

A week later, expecting a No. 4 seed, the Utes received a lowly No. 8 and were sentenced to play Purdue on Purdue’s home court in the NCAA tournament.

It was an unlucky draw. The Utes never recovered and went on to lose 66-59 to the Boilermakers. The early elimination cost Utah a rare opportunity to prove itself on the national stage. Suddenly, the magical season was over.

Despite its disappointing end, it was a year on which Utah hopes to build. Next season, guard Morgan Warburton and forward Kalee Whipple — both all-conference performers — return to the lineup. The duo combined for 31.9 points and 12.7 rebounds a game.

With stars returning at the wing positions, Elliott has some gaping holes to fill at the point guard spot and, to a lesser extent, at center. MWC Player of the Year Leilani Mitchell made enough of an impression quarterbacking the Utes that the 5-foot-5 point guard is now trying to make a name for herself in the WNBA. The Phoenix Mercury selected Mitchell with the 25th pick, making her a late second-round selection.

With the All-American out of the picture, Mitchell-backup Hennesea Tokumura and newcomers Hannah Stephens and Janita Badon will battle it out for the starting position.

The Utes will also lose 6-foot-3 starting center Jessica Perry to graduation. Perry was a four-year starter charged with guarding the opponent’s best post player.

Aside from Warburton and Whipple, there will be a few familiar faces suiting up for the Utes next season. Power forward Katie King — a SLCC transfer — made an impact in her first year playing Division-I basketball, averaging 6.6 points and 4.9 rebounds.

Halie Sawyer and Cydney Knight, who both provided sparks off the bench, hope their roles will be increased next season.

Two other Utes will finally get a chance to play next year. Freshman Josi McDermott is set to return from a back injury. Sasha McKinnon, a junior next year, will be back in uniform after spending two years on the bench — the first because of academic ineligibility and the second because of an ACL tear.

[email protected]