Utes look to bounce back from disappointing 2008 tournament

By Quinn Wilcox, Staff Writer

It’s that time of season once again.

As Utah took care of business in the regular season, it gained the No. 1 seed in the Mountain West Conference Tournament and won a share of the regular season title with San Diego State. The Utes were expected to be in this position at the beginning of the season, as they were the preseason pick to win the MWC. In living up to expectations, head coach Elaine Elliott thought her Utes showed a lot of character and toughness getting to the position they are at right now.

“This was a very different year for us,” Elliott said. “The impact that Leilani Mitchell had on the team last year was unheard of and we also didn’t play the same system we did last year. We had to re-establish our motion system. So we had a big gap there in training and to these kids’ credit, they’ve been able to play in two different systems and have won championships in both of those years.”

Although getting the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament should definitely be a goal for any team, the top seed has had a rough go of it recently in past MWC tournaments. In the tournament’s nine-year history, the top seed has won only three times.

Utah hasn’t won the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed since 2000.

The Utes’ last conference tournament championship came in 2006 as a No. 2 seed. Many remember last year when Utah came in as the No. 1 seed riding an undefeated MWC regular season, only to lose to No. 8 seed Colorado State in the first round.

“We will want to get after the tournament better than we’ve done,” Elliott said.

Winning the conference tournament this season figures to be a real challenge.

Alongside SDSU, TCU was also terrific in conference play, as it finished only one game behind the Utes and Aztecs, going 12-4 in the conference.

Then there’s last year’s MWC tourney winner, New Mexico.

The Lobos finished the year at 9-7, but played each of the MWC’s top teams down to the wire. On Utah’s Senior Day, it took a career performance from Morgan Warburton for the Utes to pull out a victory, 57-54. The No. 4 seed Lobos are projected to be Utah’s first matchup in the tournament.

“All of our conference’s top-tier teams are very good,” Elliott said. “They are all very competitive, and against them you have to tough it out till the end.”

The MWC bracket seedings could help the Utes out.

Utah went a combined 4-0 against the other top two seeds in their side of the bracket, New Mexico and Wyoming. The Utes will be able to avoid playing San Diego State and TCU, teams that Utah went a combined 2-2 against in the regular season, until the final round.

The MWC Tournament will start today at 3 p.m MDT.

New Mexico will take on last place Air Force, while Wyoming vs. Colorado State and BYU vs. UNLV will round out the first round play. No. 3 seed TCU will play the winner of the BYU-UNLV game, and Utah and San Diego State won’t play until the semi-finals on Friday.

The MWC championship game will take place Saturday in Las Vegas.

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