Utah coach Elaine Elliott had a very specific message for her team at halftime of Tuesday night's game against BYU in the Huntsman Center. She told the Utes it didn't look like they were having much fun out there.
"It has to be about that. When this is all said and done and they're old looking back, you remember all the fun times and the emotions of your experiences," said Elliott. "You don't want to get into a scenario where you're just showing up and going through the motions. We needed better energy and more enthusiasm for playing the game. That's what we wanted in the second half.
"Up the intensity. That's all we asked for," she added.
And that's exactly what 18th-ranked Utah got in an 82-45 victory over BYU.
The Utes outscored the Cougars 49-17 in the second half in the most lopsided outcome in the 90-game series between the rivals.
"We really just tried to pick up the energy and have fun," said Utah point guard Leilani Mitchell, who finished with 16 points, 12 assists and seven steals.
Morgan Warburton led all scorers with 24 points and tied a school-record by making all 12 of her free throw attempts. Kalee Whipple added 18 points and Jessica Perry contributed a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds as Utah improved to 22-3 overall and 11-0 in the Mountain West Conference.
BYU, meanwhile, fell to 12-11 and 6-5. Mallary Gillespie-Carling and Shawnee Slade each scored a team-high nine points for the Cougars.
The victory extends Utah's winning streak to 17 games the second-longest run in program history. The Utes, who face New Mexico Saturday in Albuquerque, are just one win away from matching the school record of 18 straight set by the 1976-77 team.
"We can't think about it because it might take the focus away from our game," said Warburton. "We've got to go down to The Pit."
Even so, she admits, the team is well aware of the streak.
"We've just got to take it one game at a time," Warburton said while noting that every remaining game will be a challenge since the Utes are ranked and undefeated in conference play. "We can't think about it too much."
Unlike the Utes' 80-49 win in Provo on Jan. 16, the Cougars didn't fall behind 22-0 and weren't held scoreless for nearly nine minutes. They did, however, fail to hold a lead once again.
"We knew it wasn't going to be like it was down there," said Warburton, who noted that BYU's defense was much improved this time around. "It came down to us just getting focused on what we needed to do."
Utah jumped out to a 4-0 advantage and took its first double-digit lead, at 16-6, on a 3-pointer by Whipple with 12:43 to go in the first half.
BYU, though, climbed back into contention before the intermission.
The Cougars used runs of 9-2 and 8-3 to cut the deficit to 29-26 with 2:37 remaining in the half. They drew no closer and Utah led 33-28 at the break.
When play resumed, the Utes quickly reestablished themselves. They scored the first eight points of the second half to pull away comfortably.
"We just came out flat. They just came out and hit some shots,"
said BYU coach Jeff Judkins, who added that it seemed like his team just gave up. "... You've got to give Utah credit for that. They came out in the second half and really played well."
Later in the half, Utah used a 10-0 outburst and held BYU scoreless for nearly four minutes to make it 53-34."We went on quite a big run there. We just got some stops and really clamped down on defense. Then some people made some good plays offensively. It was fun," said Mitchell. "We just really needed to pressure them more." The margin grew wider down the stretch when the Cougars endured an even longer scoring drought as the Utes reeled off 18 unanswered points. The lopsided stretch gave them a 73-39 lead with 5:18 left to play. It swelled to 39 points in the final minute.
U. women's basketball: Longest winning streaks
18 games Jan. 7 through March 5, 1977
17 games Dec. 8, 2007 through present