The University of Utah Lady Utes, led by Kristi Smith and Melanee Brooks-McQueen, defeated nationally ranked Vanderbilt 86-78 Saturday night in the Huntsman Center to win the Lady Ute Rainbo Oil Classic.
Smith, breaking out of a season-long slump, had 22 points and 7 rebounds, and McQueen, held scoreless in the tournament's first game the previous day, scored another 22 points for the Utes."Coach told us there would be a lot of opportunities for us to make a name for ourselves this season, and this was one of them," said Smith, who was voted the tournament's Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive year.
Vanderbilt, 3-2, was ranked 12th in the national preseason rankings, and 22nd in this week's USA Today poll.
The Lady Utes, 3-2, played perhaps their strongest game of the season Saturday. Prior to Saturday's game, they had made just 5 of 35 three-point attempts this season, but on Saturday they made 7 of 14. McQueen made 4 of 5 three-point shots (6 of 9 overall), including one from half-court at the end of the first half. This came one night after a scoreless 0-for-5 game against Southwest Texas State.
"Melanie is a streak shooter," said Ute coach Elaine Elliott. "Last night she didn't hit anything; tonight she hit them all."
McQueen's outside shooting was essential if the Utes were to have a chance of beating the taller Vanderbilt team, which features 6-foot-4 All-American Wendy Scholtens and 6-foot-8 Heidi Gillingham.
"You're not going to get post-up layups against them," said Elliott. "You have to shoot over them."
In the meantime, Smith, besides making 9 of 14 field goal attempts, held Scholtens scoreless in the first half. Scholtens managed 16 points in the second half, but it was well below her 25-point game average.
The Utes took a 10-point lead late in the first half, but Vanderbilt rallied to tie the game at 37 with seven seconds left. With time running out, McQueen threw in a desperation shot from half-court to give the Utes a 40-37 halftime lead.
The two teams matched each other basket for basket the first five minutes of the second half, but then the Utes pulled away again. Leading 53-52 with 15 minutes left in the game, the Lady Utes went on a 13-3 run. A three-point basket by McQueen gave Utah a 12-point lead, 69-57.
Again, the Lady Commodores rallied, clawing back to within three points, 79-76, with 1:44 remaining. McQueen made a pair of free throws to give the Utes breathing room and an 81-76 lead, but Harris scored to cut the gap to 81-78. Brenda Alcorn, who scored 16 points, made two more free throws for the Utes with 1:02 remaining, and then Harris missed a layup to end Vanderbilt's rally. In all, the Utes made 12 of 14 foul shots in the second half.
Aside from Smith, the Utes' Alcorn and McQueen were voted to the all-tournament team, as were Vanderbilt's Scholtens, Harris and Lamb.