For a team that was missing four players, including an all-conference center, the University of Utah Lady Utes weren't in great shape for this weekend's Western Athletic Conference post-season tournament. Not with only eight players on the roster.
So what do they do? The Lady Utes advanced to Saturday afternoon's championship final and routed Creighton, the regular-season champion, 86-69. Next stop: the NCAA tournament.Creighton had defeated Utah twice in as many tries during the regular season en route to winning the WAC regular season championship, but on Saturday the Lady Jays were no match for the Lady Utes.
Mikki Kane, a 6-foot sophomore from Idaho Falls, scored 33 points, making 14 of 18 field goal attempts, and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. She also totaled 7 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 2 steals.
Karen Alcorn, a 5-foot-7 junior from Oregon City, Ore., scored 24 points, making 10 of 16 shots.
The victory gives the Lady Utes, 20-9, an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. The NCAA will announce its tournament pairings today.
"We've been here before," said Coach Elaine Elliott of Saturday's tournament finals. "We're used to this situation."
The Utes have won three consecutive conference tournament championships (the last two were in the High Country Athletic Conference, which became the WAC this year). They had to beat Creighton Saturday to qualify for the NCAA tournament. This will mark the third time in four years that the Utes have qualified for the NCAAs.
It wasn't easy. "We have only eight players on our roster," said Elliott. "We lost two players to knee injuries and two players quit school and went home." One of the players who quit was all-conference center Kristy Smith.
Saturday's Creighton-Utah matchup was close for one half. The Lady Utes managed to build an eight-point lead, only to fall behind by six points later in the half. At halftime, they led by a mere point, 43-42.
"Our plan was to stop them from scoring in the post and from penetrating, and that's exactly what they did," said Elliott. "In the second half, we closed off the inside and made them shoot outside."
In the second half, the Lady Jays managed just 27 points and 29.4 percent shooting from the field. The Lady Utes, who finished second in the WAC regular season standings, steadily pulled away, eventually leading by as many as 20 points.
"Everybody did good things," said Elliott. "The rebounders rebounded, the scorers scored, Melanee (Brooks-McQueen) had nine assists."
Largely because of Kane and Alcorn, the Utes shot 55 percent from the field. Tanya Zachary had 11 rebounds, and reserve Kelly Shaheen had 11 rebounds.
In their previous two meetings this season, Creighton, 22-7, had defeated Utah 76-73 and 69-64.