LAS VEGAS It would seem that a team on a 22-game winning streak and ranked No. 13 in the country should breeze through the Mountain West Tournament.
That's what you'd think about the Utah women's basketball team, which enters the tournament as the favorite and plays Colorado State in today's first round at 5 p.m. MDT (The mtn.). The Rams knocked off the hometown UNLV team 68-49 Tuesday night.
But no one knows better than Utah coach Elaine Elliott that strange things happen when tournament time comes around.
Five times since the inception of the MWC in 1999-2000, the Utes have won or tied for the MWC regular-season title. However just once as the No. 1 seed in 2000 have they gone on to win the tournament title. Only three times in eight years has the No. 1 seed come out on top.
"History is not on our side," Elliott said. "It's really tough to be the No. 1 seed and go on to win the championship. That's more unusual than normal, so it's a big challenge."
The Utes also won the tournament in 2006 when they were the No. 2 seed and knocked off No. 1 BYU 84-60 in the finals.
"As always there's more than a few teams that have a chance to win," Elliott said. "Our league is deep. Obviously it's unusual to do what we did (go unbeaten) this year."
Elliott does believe that her team won't be overconfident going into this week's tourney.
"That's not our nature," she said. "The character of this team is not to be above it all. The character is to enjoy what they're doing and play hard and not have any expectations other than trying to play well."
The Utes are led by MWC Player of the Year Leilani Mitchell, all-MWC first-teamer Morgan Warburton and second teamer Kalee Whipple.
Mitchell is coming off a near-triple-double last week against the Rebels when she had 14 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds. On the season she averaged 16.8 points and 7.5 assists per game.
With a 27-3 record, the Utes shouldn't even be worried about playing a 3-27 Colorado State team this afternoon, right?
The Rams broke a 20-game losing streak with their big win over the Rebels Tuesday and are playing perhaps their best ball of the season. They lost to Utah 68-28 early in the season, but a week ago in Fort Collins, they nearly upset the Utes, losing 63-58, after being tied in the final minute.
CSU is led by Elle Queen, who had 16 points and 7 rebounds against UNLV and Amaka Uzomah, who had 7 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists.If the Utes get by Colorado State, they'll face the winner of the BYU-New Mexico game Friday at 1 p.m. Beyond that, the finals will be Saturday at 2 p.m.
MWC women's tournament
Today at Las Vegas
BYU vs. New Mexico, 2:30 p.m.
Utah vs. UNLV,* 5 p.m.
Air Force vs. TCU, 8:30 p.m.
Wyoming vs. SDSU, 11 p.m.