Utes take streak, defense identity into UNLV game

By Quinn Wilcox, Staff Writer

When basketball season got under way, many figured that the Utes would resemble a finesse team. They had two of the most prolific scorers in the conference with Morgan Warburton and Kalee Whipple on the wings. Utah is still doing as well as expected this year. It started the conference slate at 4-0 and is on a seven-game winning streak.

The Utes’ identity, however, has changed.

Utah’s wins are coming through defense and consistently winning the battle of the boards.

Defense has been the catalyst for the Utes’ seven-game streak. Utah is No. 2 in the Mountain West Conference in both points allowed per contest and field-goal percentage defense. In the second half of the Air Force game, the Utes held the Falcons to only three made field goals. In the first half against Colorado State, the Rams didn’t even get on the scoreboard until almost 10 minutes into the game.

“Intensity is always the key defensively,” said head coach Elaine Elliott. “We were obviously very ready and intense to start the Colorado State game, and that was good to see. It’s important that we try to stay consistent in that area.”

Utah’s other main strength this year has been rebounding8212;the other main catalyst for the Utes’ recent success. Whipple was a known commodity going into the season. The all-conference forward ranked in the top five in the conference last year in rebounds per game as a small forward. Utah’s two other forwards, Katie King and Halie Sawyer, have made winning the battle of the boards almost a given before each game. In fact, the two outrebounded the entire San Diego State team on their own two weeks ago.

“I think rebounding is really a momentum issue,” said Sawyer, who leads the team in rebounding with 8.7 boards per outing. “Momentum really comes from our rebounding. It gets us fast breaks and more offensive possessions. It really helps our entire team out.”

Utah’s next opportunity to keep its winning streak alive is Saturday against UNLV in the Huntsman Center. The Runnin’ Rebels are heading in the opposite direction of the Utes. UNLV is 1-3 in conference play and 8-9 overall. Unlike Utah, which has been shutting down opponents, UNLV can’t seem to stop anybody. They are allowing 68.9 points per game, the worst in the conference.

UNLV’s ability to score can come in waves. Three players are averaging double figures, with center Shamela Hampton leading all scorers at 14.2 points per game. UNLV’s other two leading scorers, Erica Helms and Jamie Smith, are both shooting over 40 percent on the season from the 3-point line.

With so many offensive options for the Rebels, Utah won’t be able to afford to lay off the intensity on the defensive end. It will be a battle of streaky offense versus the aggressive Utah defense as the Utes will look to try to shut down all of UNLV’s weapons.

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Lucas Isley

Morgan Warburton and the Utes hope to keep their undefeated conference record rolling when they host UNLV Saturday.