There have been a couple of close calls in Utah's 17-game winning streak.
The most thrilling came in Laramie, Wyo., on Jan. 30, when Morgan Warburton's 3-pointer with three seconds remaining lifted the Utes to a 60-59 victory over then-15th-ranked Wyoming.
A week earlier, however, the streak faced a different kind of peril.
With 7:53 remaining in a home game against New Mexico, Utah trailed 52-38. It took a game-ending 22-5 run to turn things around and keep the streak alive. The Utes made five of their final six shots from the field and hit six free throws down the stretch to escape with a 60-57 victory.
Now comes the rematch.
No. 18 Utah (22-3, 11-0) faces New Mexico (14-11, 6-6) today (1 p.m., 1280 AM) in The Pit at Albuquerque.
"That's a huge target on our back," said Warburton. "They want to get us because the game up here was not even close to what we thought it would be."
The Lobos have other motivations as well. Same goes for the rest of Utah's remaining opponents.
And the Utes know it.
"We've got to take it one game at a time and know that every team is going to come that much harder every game because we're undefeated and we've got the winning streak going," said Warburton.
Utah is just one win away from equaling the program record for consecutive victories matching the accomplishment of the 1976-77 team, which reeled off 18 straight wins from January to March that season.
The current Utes aren't trying to think about that. In last Tuesday's 82-45 win over BYU, they focused on having fun.
Following a sluggish first half, Utah outscored the Cougars 49-17 after the break to win handily.
"We've been able to manage some pretty good spurts in a lot of games both to pull away and we've had instances where we've come from behind," said head coach Elaine Elliott. "I think this team knows that they have it in them, but the thing that we don't want them to think is: 'Oh, we have it in us.' We want them to play with great love and passion to begin with in games."
Everybody plays better when they're having fun, she added.
Contributions were plentiful in the victory over the Cougars. Warburton led all scorers with 24 points, while Kalee Whipple added 18. Leilani Mitchell contributed 16 points, 12 assists and seven steals. Jessica Perry had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
"With this team you can't try to stop one person you've got to stop everyone. That's what's awesome about it," said Warburton. "If people aren't hitting shots that's OK because you've got someone to back you up. It's so much fun to play on a team like this because you know someone is going to bring it every night."
BYU coach Jeff Judkins, though, believes Mitchell is the key to Utah's success. The senior point guard, who transferred to Utah after earning All-America honors at Idaho in 2006, is once again garnering national attention. She's a finalist for the prestigious Nancy Lieberman Award."Mitchell makes that team completely. You take that kid off the team and they're a different team," said Judkins. "She creates so much for everybody that it makes it easy. She just lets it come."
On the air
No. 18 Utah (22-3, 11-0) at New Mexico (14-11, 6-6)
Today, 1 p.m.
The Pit, Albuquerque
Radio: 1280 AM
E-mail: [email protected]