At least one local basketball team is heading to the NCAAs this week.
The University of Utah women's team received its expected invitation Sunday to the NCAAs and will play at Nevada-Las Vegas Wednesday night.The Lady Utes captured the High Country Athletic Conference championship Saturday night in Las Cruces, N.M., with an easy 92-54 victory over Wyoming. That gave the Lady Utes a 24-5 record, their best since 1977 when they went 26-3, and an automatic berth in the NCAAs.
"We were very happy to win the tournament and get to the NCAAs, which is what we've been aiming for all year," said Ute Coach Elaine Elliott. "Vegas at Vegas is no easy assignment, but we'll give it our best shot."
If the Lady Utes get by UNLV on Wednesday, they will play Colorado (27-3), the No. 3 seed in the West Saturday night. The winner of that game will go to the West Regionals, which will be played at Austin, Texas next week.
Although the UNLV women play most of their home games at the Thomas and Mack Arena, this game will be played at the South Campus Gym, since the big arena isn't available. It will start at 8:30 p.m. MST.
The Lady Rebels are led by Pauline Jordan, a 6-3 junior, who scores 18.2 points and 12.8 rebounds a game. In the championship game of the Big West, she scored 38 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in an 89-81 loss to Long Beach State.
Other top players for UNLV include Geannine Jordan, sister of Pauline, (10.8 ppg), Denise Ballenger (10.6), Vicki Lander, Linda Staley and Merlelynn Lange.
The Lady Utes have a well-balanced lineup led by guard Gina Butters (14.3 ppg) and forward Cindy Lindsay (13.7). Other starters are Brenda Alcorn, Stephie Watrin and Melanee Brooks, with Kristi Smith the top reserve off the bench.
The last NCAA appearance for the Lady Utes was in 1986 when they lost to Montana 58-46 in the first round.
In other first-round games in the West Regional Wednesday, Hawaii plays at Washington, Cal State-Fullerton is at Montana and Cincinnatti is at Bowling Green. The top four seeds in the West are Maryland, Texas, Colorado and Stephen F. Austin.
Louisiana Tech and Auburn, the 1988 champion and runnerup, were given top seeds Sunday for the tournament. The women's Final Four will be in Tacoma, Wash., March 31 and April 2.