AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. The University of Utah women's basketball team was reminded Wednesday night that wins in conference play don't come easy.
The Air Force Academy squad fought tooth and nail with the Utes, but Utah (12-3, 1-0) escaped Clune Arena with a 60-50 win in the two teams' Mountain West Conference opener.
Utah had a hard time putting distance between itself and the Falcons (6-7, 0-1) in the first half, never owning leads larger than six points.
Utah was stronger in the second stanza, though, as Leilani Mitchell scored the Utes' first nine points, sparking an 11-4 run that transformed their 26-22 halftime lead into a 37-29 cushion.
The visitors never looked back from then on. A 11-5 rush midway through the second half extended Utah's eight-point lead into a 14-point spread, 50-36, with 8:13 left in the game. That would be its largest lead of the game as Utah settled for the 10-point win.
The Utes' second-half surge centered around its 61.9 percent shooting (13-for-21). That was far better than their first-half mark of 39.1 percent (9-for-23). Those numbers average out to a 50 percent mark for the game.
Mitchell finished the game with a season-high-tying 24 points, 20 of those coming in the second half. She connected on 8-of-14 shots from the field and was 7-for-8 from the foul line. The senior point guard also finished with six assists and two steals. Junior guard Morgan Warburton also had a 20-point game, scoring 20 on 7-for-14 shooting from the floor. Warburton also had a game-high nine rebounds.Air Force's Kim Kreke and Pamela Findlay tied for team-honors with 11 points apiece.
UTAH STATE 55, HAWAII 48: At Logan, the Aggies used a stellar defensive effort that forced a season-high 33 turnovers on their way to a victory over Hawaii in Western Athletic Conference women's basketball matchup Wednesday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
The win improves USU to 2-0 in WAC action, marking the first time in head coach Raegan Pebley's five-year tenure that the Aggies opened conference play with two wins.
Overall Utah State won its third in a row, tying its longest win streak under Pebley, in improving to 6-8 on the season. USU has won three of its last four games and five of the last eight.