On the heels of a rough Mountain West Conference tournament and an unexpected fall to a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tourney, the University of Utah's women's basketball program received some good news Wednesday.
The Women's Basketball Coaches Association announced that senior point guard Leilani Mitchell is a regional finalist for All-America honors and named Elaine Elliott the Region 7 Coach of the Year.
Mitchell averaged 16.8 points and 7.5 assists in guiding the Utes to a perfect 16-0 record in conference play and a national ranking.
Besides being named the MWC's Player and Newcomer of the Year, she has also netted third-team All-America honors from CBCSports.com.
Elliott, meanwhile, added regional recognition to her MWC Coach of the Year accolades after leading Utah to a 27-4 record this season. The Utes, who were ranked as high as 12th, won 22 consecutive games at one point and led the MWC in eight statistical categories.
The success landed Utah a berth in the NCAA tourney. The Utes will face Purdue in the first round Sunday on the Boilermakers' home floor in West Lafayette, Ind. The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. (MDT).
A victory will likely lead to a second-round encounter with defending national champion Tennessee.
Elliott, however, isn't looking that far ahead.
"No. You never do in a tournament," she said. "You just go to the first one. You go to the next one each time you get a chance to play."
Purdue's focus is also on the first game. Head coach Sharon Versyp compares Utah to Big Ten foe Iowa.
"There's nothing you can throw at us that we haven't seen," she told the Indianapolis Star.
Senior Kalika France noted that home-court advantage at Mackey Arena should be beneficial as well.
"If the fans can help us out that's great," she told the newspaper. "We're hoping it's going to be a huge advantage. At home, our fans always support us."
The Utes will travel to Purdue on a charter flight on Friday.Press conferences and a practice are slated for Saturday.