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Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
BYU's Shawnee Slade goes up for a basket under watchful eyes of her teammates Lauren Varley and Mindy Neilson.

While preseason favorite Wyoming still seems like the Mountain West Conference women's basketball team to beat, the lineup of contenders has been shaken up after nine weeks of nonleague action going into tonight's conference openers.

No team has made as dramatic nonleague strides as Utah, which took some roster hits with graduation and transfers. But incoming transfers Leilani Mitchell and Katie King have joined regulars Morgan Warburton, Kalee Whipple and Jessica Perry to give Elaine Elliott's Utes a balanced team and tight rotation.

Look at the Mountain West's statistical leaders, and several of the aforementioned names often are found among the top 10 in key categories such as scoring, rebounding and shooting percentage.

TCU and BYU, picked Nos. 2 and 3 in the preseason poll, managed .500 nonleague records, while the Cougars are trying to mesh experienced veterans like Mallary Carling, Lauren Varley and Shawnee Slade into a starting lineup with first-year freshman like Keilani Moeaki inside and either Mindy Nielson or Jazmine Foreman at the point.

Following is a brief rundown of each MWC women's team, listed according to preseason predicted finish:


Current record/streak: 12-1/six wins.

Preseason pick: First — 24 first-place ballots, 203 total points.

Leading scorer: Hanna Zavecz, 14.8 points per game (sixth in MWC).

Leading rebounder: Aubrey Vandiver, 7.2 rebounds per game (sixth in MWC).

Best win: Wyoming needed OT to post a 67-66 victory at No. 25 Wisconsin.

Worst loss: The Cowgirls' 69-55 loss at Colorado is the only blemish to date.

Worth noting: Not only does the back-intact starting lineup consist of four seniors and one junior, but the Cowgirls lost only three letterwinners and a combined per-game average of just 2.1 points and .6 rebounds from last year's WNIT championship team.


Current record/streak: 7-7/two wins.

Preseason pick: Second — two first-place ballots, 188 total points.

Leading scorer: Adrianne Ross, 15.3 ppg (fourth in MWC).

Leading rebounder: Lorie Butler-Rayford, 7.9 rpg (fourth in MWC).

Best win: After three losses against Top 20 teams, the Frogs whipped No. 20 Oklahoma State 97-63 at home in mid-December.

Worst loss: Before trouncing Texas-Arlington 97-42 last weekend, TCU was 0-4 against instate rivals SMU (66-61), No. 12 Texas A&M (69-58), Rice (82-74) and Houston (73-68).

Worth noting: TCU played the MWC's most ambitious nonconference slate. Besides OSU and A&M, the Frogs also faced — and fell to — No. 5 LSU (73-54) and No. 12 Cal (74-55).<


Current overall record, streak: 6-6/two wins.

Preseason pick: Third — one first-place ballot, 182 total points.

Leading scorer: Mallary Carling, 13.8 ppg (10th in MWC).

Leading rebounder: Lauren Varley, 8.2 rpg (second in MWC).

Best win: The Cougars snapped a pre-holiday funk with a 68-58 home victory over an athletic UCLA squad.

Worst loss: No matter that it came at second-ranked UConn, a 46-point drubbing (80-34) is an embarrassment any day.

Worth noting: To date, the Cougars already have doubled the number of home losses — two — that they had all of last season.

New Mexico

Current record/streak: 8-5/one loss.

Preseason pick: Fourth — three first-place votes, 174 total points.

Leading scorer: Dionne Marsh, 13.5 ppg (11th in MWC).

Leading rebounder: Brandi Kimble, 6.9 rpg (eighth in MWC).

Best win: Perhaps the biggest "name" victory for the Lobos was a 65-46 home win over Oregon in late November.

Worst loss: Folks at The Pit would have expected a better home showing than a 44-36 December loss to Arizona.

Worth noting: Any team expecting to challenge for the regular-season title wants to win in Albuquerque, and UNM is 40-2 at The Pit in MWC games dating back to Jan. 17, 2002.


Current record/streak: 11-3/six wins.

Preseason pick: Fifth — 158 total points.

Leading scorer: Leilani Mitchell, 17.1 ppg (second in MWC).

Leading rebounder: Kalee Whipple, 6.6 rpg (10th in MWC).

Best win: Besides a half-dozen romps with margins of victory between 24 and 49 points, Utah downed Nebraska 67-59 in its final-round pairing at Honolulu's Oahu Classic.

Worst loss: The Utes are better than their 17-point loss (62-45) at Southern California in early December indicates.

Worth noting: The season is only nine weeks old, but Mitchell, the Utes' senior guard, has already claimed four MWC player-of-the-week honors.


Current record/streak: 4-9/three losses.

Preseason pick: Sixth — 109 total points.

Leading scorer: Sequoia Holmes, 20.7 ppg (first in MWC)

Leading rebounder: Sequoia Holmes, 7.3 rpg (fifth in MWC)

Best win: The Rebels edged No. 14 George Washington 62-61 in late November.

Worst loss: UNLV has lost five of seven since that GWU victory, including a 84-63 debacle at Nevada.

Worth noting: Holmes has made an early case for all-MWC honors, leading the league in scoring and among the leaders in rebounding.

San Diego State

Current record/streak: 9-3/one loss.

Preseason pick: Seventh — 93 total points.

Leading scorer: Paris Johnson, 14.6 ppg (seventh in MWC)

Leading rebounder: Paris Johnson, 6.7 rpg (ninth in MWC)

Best win: Besides beating a host of foes from mid- to lower-level conferences, SDSU whipped Navy 91-33 several weeks ago.

Worst loss: The Aztecs opened their own San Diego Surf 'N' Slam tournament by getting slammed by little-known Quinnipiac 78-59.

Worth noting: Johnson and teammate Allison Duffy are only two first-year players in the league's top 20 in both scoring and rebounding.

Colorado State

Current record/streak: 2-11/four losses.

Preseason pick: Eighth — 53 total points.

Leading scorer: Sara Hunter, 11.8 ppg (16th in MWC).

Leading rebounder: Juanise Cornell, 8.1 rpg (third in MWC).

Best win: An 84-77 home victory over Pacific a month ago marked the second — and most recent — Ram win of the season.

Worst loss: CSU fell in a bucket-bare 42-31 debacle at Idaho last month.

Worth noting: In CSU's home opener, Hunter tallied an MWC-record 41 points in a 3-OT loss (101-96) to San Francisco.

Air Force

Current record/streak: 6-6/L1.

Preseason pick: Ninth —37 total points.

Leading scorer: Alecia Steele, 15.2 ppg (fifth in MWC).

Leading rebounder: Alecia Steele, 8.9 rpg (first in MWC).

Best win: Air Force's 68-60 victory over Army doubled both as victory against a fellow service academy and as the Falcons' most recognizable "big-name" foe to defeat.

Worst loss: Take your pick — a 78-68 loss to Utah Valley State in the finals of the Falcons' own Air Force Classic or a 72-69 OT loss at Navy in late December.

Worth noting: AAFA leads the league in free-throw percentage (.722) and 3-point field-goal percentage (.392) and is third in rebounding (39.6 rpg), just a fraction behind TCU and New Mexico.

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