Utah women’s basketball team wins MWC Championship

By Paige Fieldsted, Staff Writer

Paige Fieldsted
Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS8212;Welcome to the big dance.

The Utah women’s basketball team locked up its place in the NCAA tournament with a 63-58 victory over the San Diego State Aztecs to win the MWC championship.

“I’m just so pleased for these kids, this team. They’ve worked so hard this year,” head coach Elaine Elliott said. “Just a great 1-2 game conference championship. I don’t know that you could ask for more.”

Morgan Warburton earned the conference MVP award to go along with her regular season MWC player of the year award, as she led the Utes with 24 points, including a 14-for-14 effort from the free-throw line.

The Utes looked to be on high after their last-second win over New Mexico to make it into the finals and jumped out to an early 8-2 lead, but San Diego State wasn’t going down without a fight as it put together a 10-0 run to take the 12-8 lead.

The rest of the first half was a back-and-forth battle that saw the seven tied scores and four lead changes.

The Utes struggled with ball control and gave up 11 turnovers in the first half that left them down 28-25 going into the break.

“They forced us into a lot of turnovers the first half and they are so good when they are scoring off turnovers,” Elliott said. “They got that on us in the first half and that was the wrong kind of game for us, so we controlled that the second half.”

Utah was also forced into playing tentatively in the second half and allowed San Diego State to hold on to the lead until less than three minutes left in the game, when a deep 3-pointer from Warburton gave the Utes a 55-54 lead.

The Warburton 3-pointer seemed to be the fire the Utes needed, as they wouldn’t relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game.

“We didn’t panic or anything,” said senior Katie King, who finished with 12 points. “Some teams going into three or four minutes left panic and we just stayed together as a team and just kept playing.”

Although it was Warburton who lit the fire for the Utes, it was the other half of Utah’s dynamic duo that kept the Utes from falling behind the second half as Kalee Whipple finished the game with 21 points, all of which came in the second half.

“First half, I don’t know where I was,” Whipple said. “I was focusing more on offense than defense, I think. The second half I tried to rebound more and get the offensive boards and maybe get to the line. I wasn’t really thinking about scoring, it just happened.”

After struggling with free throws and missing six from the line late in the game that nearly cost the Utes the game against New Mexico, Whipple was back in the championship and hit 8-for-9 from the foul line and went 6-for-9 from the field in her second half domination that boosted Utah to victory.

“She Kalee Whipplized,” said San Diego State head coach Beth Burns. “She’s just a great player.”

Utah’s domination in the free throw game and rebounding was a major factor in the Utes victory. The Utes outrebounded the Aztecs 38 to 31, and were led by King and Warburton, who both pulled down eight.

It was free throws that made the biggest difference in the game as the Utes where able to use a huge discrepancy to their advantage, making 22-of-28 from the line in comparison to San Diego State’s 3-for-8 effort.

“We were aggressive and had to be because of San Diego’s defense,” Elliot said. “We played to the rim a lot tonight and getting to the line was huge.”

With the victory, the Utes wrapped up the MWC conference championship to go along with their regular season title.

The win earned Utah an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

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Tyler Cobb

The women?s basketball team celebrates after defeating SDSU to win the MWC tournament. The Utes won 63-58 to earn the automatic bid into the NCAA.