ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The Utah Utes have made themselves
right at home in The Pit.
Utah nearly beat eventual national champion Maryland in a
regional final here last March. The Utes returned Sunday to beat
No. 25 New Mexico 49-48, ending the Lobos' 5-year-old, 35-game
homecourt winning streak in Mountain West Conference games.
Jessica Perry scored 13 points, including the game-winning
basket with 1:34 left, but it was the Utes' defensive work and the
Lobos' horrendous second half shooting that decided it.
Utah lost to Maryland 75-65 in overtime in the regional final.
The Utes had a chance to win that game in regulation, but guard
Shona Thorburn missed a free throw with 7.8 seconds left that would
have put the Utes ahead.
"Having come here and being successful in the NCAAs, you can
talk about it in a positive way," said Utah coach Elaine Elliott,
who got her 499th career win. "You never know what their brains
What the Utes controlled Sunday was the Lobos' offense over the
final 20 minutes. New Mexico, which has had six straight 20-win
seasons, struggled through one of its worst shooting performances
in coach Don Flanagan's 12-year tenure.
The Lobos hit just 4 of 28 shots in the second half (14.3
percent), including just 2 of their final 26.
"Obviously, shooting in the second half was horrendous, just
absolutely the worst I've ever seen," Flanagan said. "I don't
have anything to compliment except for (Utah's) play. They played
with poise, they ran their offense effectively."
Utah (9-6, 2-0 MWC) trailed by 14 points in the first half, but
the youthful Utes, with just two starters back from last year's
team, stayed in it with some clutch shooting and a tenacious and
physical presence on defense.
"We haven't shown the maturity to stay focused and play
together," Elliott said. "We've had bouts of self pity. We were,
for the first time, the entire game, totally focused on being a
part of a team. They got up early and we didn't hang our heads.
That was our story."
New Mexico (10-5, 0-2) had a chance to win it, but guard Brandi
Kimble missed two shots under the basket in the final eight
seconds. The loss was the first for New Mexico in The Pit in a
conference game since Jan. 6, 2002. And it was six years to the
date since Utah's last win over New Mexico in The Pit.
Julie Briody led New Mexico with 20 points. But Briody didn't
touch the ball in the final seconds as Utah made sure someone else
took the Lobos' final shots.
"We knew she's the only one that's hot, she's the only one
scoring," Elliott said. "We knew we had to chase her, not give
her space. We knew she was going to go to the rim."
The Lobos had to find another option and it came down to Kimble,
who got two good open looks, but couldn't get the ball to fall.
"The putback opportunities sometimes go your way. Last year we
lost games down the stretch when one of those kind of shots went
in. Today, we got lucky," Elliott said.
"We had an opportunity to win at the end and we didn't do it,"
Flanagan said. "We had opportunities throughout the game to be
New Mexico led 34-30 at halftime and opened up a 10-point lead
after Dionne Marsh and Briody hit back-to-back 3s in the first
minute of the second half.
Perry and sophomore Morgan Warburton kept the Utes close and
Perry's 3-pointer with 4:44 left gave Utah its first lead of the
game at 45-44.
Briody, a guard, scored after posting up inside, but Warburton
countered with a bankshot with 3:29 left.
Marsh, hobbling on a pair of injured ankles, hit two free throws
with 1:54 left, but Perry got free underneath for the game-winner.
The teams traded turnovers until New Mexico got possession on a
held ball with 24.4 seconds left.
Warburton scored 12 points and Joh-Teena Filipe had 10.
The loss was the second straight in conference play for the
Lobos and Flanagan didn't waste words in expressing his feelings.
"When you shoot 14 or 15 percent in a half, I don't know who
you can blame it on," he said. "Everything went wrong. I got
outcoached. They (Lobos) got outplayed."