Imperfect season could help build momentum

By Quinn Wilcox, Staff Writer

If anyone knows how crucial momentum is going into March, it’s head coach Elaine Elliott and her U women’s basketball team.

Last year the Utes went through the conference season unscathed, a perfect 16-0. They had arguably the two best players in the Mountain West in Player of the Year Leilani Mitchell and first team all-conference selection Morgan Warburton.

But the Utes suffered a major upset to last-place Colorado State in the first round of the conference tournament, losing 60-52. A first-round loss in the conference tournament led to an unfavorable seeding in the NCAAs, as Utah was shipped off to Indiana to play the Purdue Boilermakers with a No. 8 seed. The Utes’ season ended in the first round with no momentum whatsoever while facing a hostile crowd.

“The momentum is key for what this team is going to do,” Warburton said. “Last year, when we lost that first game in the conference tournament, we lost some confidence. And then going into the NCAAs, it was a little bit different for us.”

Momentum is something Utah is going to have to try to regain after Saturday’s loss to TCU. After an emotionally draining win versus New Mexico on Senior Day, Utah came up just short against the Horned Frogs, losing a tight game, 53-47.

Warburton hopes the conference tournament can provide the conference champion Utes the boost they need. Unlike last year, if Utah wants to make the NCAA tournament, it will have to win games while searching for that burst.

“It’s always good to win a couple and hopefully win the conference tournament down in Vegas,” Warburton said. “I think it gives you momentum going into the NCAAs and, most importantly, it gives you confidence.”

Strangely enough, the losses the Utes suffered this year in conference play might actually benefit them. Elliott said going into a conference tournament with no losses in conference play, such as last year, can be a disadvantage.

“It’s really hard to go into the tournament at the end having never lost,” Elliott said. “You never lose for that purpose, but if you’re really honest about it, losses can serve for motivations for rematches. Those don’t exist if you don’t lose. So hopefully that will work for us.”

If Utah reaches the finals, its most likely opponent will be either TCU or San Diego State. The Utes went 1-1 against both squads. But more importantly, Utah lost to both teams the last time they went up against them, which means Utah will have the revenge factor going for them. Utah will also have a bye going into the semi-finals with New Mexico, Air Force, Wyoming or Colorado State being its first possible matchup.

If the two games against Colorado State this year are any indication as to how the squad approaches rematch games with revenge in mind, Utah knows how to use revenge to its advantage. Utah avenged last year’s loss against Colorado State this year with wins of 74-48 and 74-45.

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Tyler Cobb

Despite winning their second-straight MWC title, the Utes look to bounce last year?s first-round disaster loss to CSU from their memory.