LAS VEGAS Maybe it was just a matter of wanting to get a couple of extra days rest for next week's NCAA Tournament.
How else do you explain how a 27-3, 12th-ranked Utah women's basketball team with the longest winning streak in the nation could possibly lose to a 3-27 Colorado State team that hadn't won a game in more than three months until the night before? A Ute team that had earlier beaten the Rams by 40 points at home after leading by 29 at halftime? A Utah team that went 16-0 during the regular season losing to a team that went 0-16?
Shall we go on?
Unbelievably, the unthinkable happened Wednesday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center, where the Rams scored perhaps one of the biggest upsets in women's basketball history with a 60-52 victory over the Utes.
That means instead of spending a few days in sunny 75-degree weather in Las Vegas, the Utes are heading home much earlier than expected to lick their wounds as they await their NCAA fate on Monday afternoon.
Although the defeat was embarrassing, the Utes tried not to make excuses afterward.
"Obviously we had our problems," said Utah coach Elaine Elliott. "There was no sort of coming in and overlooking them and that kind of crap. That's not what it's about. It's about a team who played really well with a real intensity. We just want to give credit to CSU."
And Elliott insisted the Utes weren't going half-speed or anything trying to save energy for next week,
"We came in here to win," she said. "We didn't come in here to say 'Who cares?' We intended to battle hard and win."
As astonishing as it was, this was certainly no fluke victory.
The Rams outplayed the Utes from the opening tip. Their array of zone defenses confounded the Utes, who were forced to try long shots all game long. And they just couldn't hit them, shooting a season-low 29.3 percent from the field on 17 of 58. It was slightly worse from 3-point range as they hit 27.6 percent on 8 of 29.
The Utes' big three of Leilani Mitchell, Morgan Warburton and Kalee Whipple were a combined 13-of-48 as Warburton and Whipple each went 4-for-16 and Mitchell was 5-for-16.
"They did a good job of switching up," said Mitchell. "But I think we got good shots. I mean we shot 29 percent. You're not going to win games shooting 29 percent."
After trailing most of the first half, the Utes were able to go into halftime with a 32-30 lead after scoring two baskets in the final 45 seconds.
They appeared to be on their way when Warburton sank a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 37-34 with 14:20 left. But Utah missed its next three shots, and when Emily Neal sank a 3-pointer to make it 42-39 with 8:50 left, the Rams were ahead for good.
After Elle Queen scored to make it 44-41 with 8:01 left, the Rams made just one field goal the rest of the way but sank 14-of-17 free throws to put the Utes away.
"It just shows how much your heart and just going out there and playing hard can do," said Neal, who led her team with 17 points. "It's not always statistical or any of that; it's always just who is going to come out and play harder."
Sara Hunter added 14 points for the Rams, and forward Amaka Uzomah dominated the boards with 15 rebounds, in addition to eight points.
"We've had a rough season," said Uzomah. "We had nothing to lose."Mitchell led the Utes with 19 points, while Whipple and Warburton each scored 11.
E-mail: [email protected]