PROVO A couple of extended winning streaks, a shared spot as unbeatens atop the Mountain West Conference women's basketball standings and a little instate rivalry is all that's riding on tonight's Utah-BYU affair.
Tip-off between the visiting Utes (13-2 overall, 2-0 MWC) and the host Cougars (8-6, 2-0 MWC) is set for 7 p.m. at the Marriott Center. It's the first of two regular-season meetings, with the rematch set for a month later in Salt Lake City.
On the heels of a 74-65 home victory earlier this week against San Diego State, Utah carries an eight-game winning streak as the conference's surprise team this season but it shouldn't be a surprise for U. coach Elaine Elliott, who in her 25th season boasts the Mountain West's winningest women's basketball program.
Retooling a roster depleted with graduations and premature player departures, Elliott took returning players like Morgan Warburton, Kalee Whipple and Jessica Perry and blended in transfers Leilani Mitchell and Katie King to cook up a tight rotation and a high-scoring attack.
Meanwhile, BYU has righted an up-and-down start to the season to sport its own four-win streak, including Wednesday night's 67-55 home victory over UNLV. The streak coincides with Cougar coach Jeff Judkins moving to a starting lineup of veterans Mallary Carling, Lauren Varley and Shawnee Slade coupled with first-year freshmen Mindy Nielson and Keilani Moeaki.
The two teams join Wyoming (15-1, 3-0 MWC) as the sole unbeatens two weeks into league play.
Over the years, the Utah-BYU rivalry has produced classic confrontations on and off the court. While Utah historically has dominated, the two can't even agree on what the overall record is the Utes claim it as 57-31 and the Cougars counter with 56-33.
However, recent history isn't debatable Utah has won eight of the last 11 meetings, with BYU claiming two of the three pairings last year, including the regular-season game in Provo and the semifinal contest in the MWC Tournament.
But both sides are at their best behavior going into tonight's contest.
"Every year and every team is different we're completely different and they're a different group," said Elliott, avoiding comparisons to previous years. "It's a game that both sides always want to win."Said Judkins: "They don't make mistakes that's the biggest thing about Utah."
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Contributing: Dirk Facer