Utah pushes through first round of NCAAs

By Quinn Wilcox, Staff Writer

It looks like Utah can prolong its stay in College Park, Md., a little longer, thanks to a suffocating defensive performance.

The No. 9 seed Utes took care of business and then some as they dismantled the No. 8 seed Villanova Wildcats 60-30 Sunday afternoon.

Katie King was one of three Utes to score in double figures by leading all scorers with 18 points, tying her career high. Morgan Warburton pitched in 14 points, and Kalee Whipple received the ESPN Player of the Game award after her performance with 15 points and eight rebounds.

“This team has been amazing all year. We are happy to be here,” said head coach Elaine Elliott. “To be here was a task. They have grown into this game, and it was a great reward for them.”

It was apparent from the opening tip that Utah was ready to exorcise last year’s tournament nightmare.

The Utes stormed out to a 10-0 lead in the opening minutes, with Whipple and Warburton hitting two early 3-pointers. Villanova responded with a 12-4 run of its own, eventually cutting Utah’s lead down to two. That’s when the Utes went into a defensive craze as they put the clamps down on the Wildcats’ offense.

Villanova didn’t score a single basket for the last 4 minutes 48 seconds of the first half and went into halftime down 26-16. The Wildcats could only muster a meager 25 percent shooting.

“Well, I mean we are extraordinarily happy with this first round game for us,” Elliott said. “Our kids played hard and Villanova is a very good team. They had some struggles tonight putting the ball in the hole, so it is a great start for us.”

The second half followed the same beat as the first.

Utah opened things up with another run, outscoring the Wildcats 11-1 in the first few minutes of the second half to push its lead up to 37-17.

Villanova wasn’t able to get the Utes’ lead back to under 15 points the rest of the night and Utah seemingly went on cruise control for the rest of the game.

“We were ready to play, and we were confident in our shots,” Warburton said. “So it was a good start for us and helped us with our confidence.”

Utah’s stern defensive effort has been around all season, but Elliott must have been pleased with her player’s defensive effort against one of the best teams in the Big East.

Villanova’s star player, senior forward Laura Kurz, was held to 11 points on 5-of-19 shooting from the field, including going 0-for-7 from the 3-point line. Kurz’s teammates didn’t have much luck against the Utes either, as the Wildcats shot a combined 19 percent from the floor for the game. Villanova managed to make only four field goals the entire second half.

“Our job was to take away the 3-pointer, because that’s what we thought was going to win the game for us,” Whipple said.

Utah has no time to celebrate the 30-point victory. The No. 1 seed Maryland Terrapins (29-4) now await the Utes.

Maryland has been a trendy pick to land in the Final Four, thanks in large part to its high-powered offense that is averaging nearly 80 points per contest.

All-American point guard Kristi Toliver figures to be a tough matchup for the Utes’ two freshmen point guards, Hannah Stephens and Janita Badon. Toliver, a terrific 3-point shooter, leads the Terps in points scored per game with 18.4 and has logged a team-high 155 assists on the season. Warburton and Whipple also figure to have their hands full Tuesday as they go up against wing player Marissa Coleman. Coleman has been putting up 17.7 points per game while grabbing 8.1 rebounds a game. Maryland beat No. 16 seed Dartmouth 82-53 in the first round. Utah will also have to put up with the home crowd, as the game will be played on Maryland’s home floor.

When asked if Utah could pose problems for the top-seeded Terps, Villanova coach Harry Perretta wasn’t shy.

“To me, the only way to beat a Maryland or a UConn or any of the elite teams is you have to play an opposite style of play,” Perretta said. “(The Utes) do play an opposite style of play.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

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Associated Press

Halie Sawyer congratulates Kalee Whipple and other teammates during their game NCAA tournament game against Villanova. Utah started the game with a 10-point lead and never looked back winning by the score of 60-30.

Associated Press

Katie King goes in for the ball against Villanova’s Tia Grant. King tied a career high with 18 points and she added six rebounds in the Utes win.