Utes share MWC regular season title, lose tourney

Updated: March 15, 2004, 11:42 AM ET
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- Spurned by the NCAA tournament, the 24-7 Utah women turned down an invitation for Women's National Invitation Tournament.

The sometimes-ranked Utes finished the regular season with a share of the Mountain West Conference championship and had an RPI of 40.

But -- like the No. 22 Utah State men -- they did not win their conference tournament, losing Saturday night to New Mexico 71-50 in the championship game at Denver. The USU men also were disappointed about not getting a NCAA berth, but they accepted an NIT invitation.

The first hint the Utah women received Sunday that they might be passed over came when New Mexico, which shared the regular-season conference title with Utah, was seeded only 12th in the Midwest Regional.

"We thought we were going. It's like a big shock and a big disappointment," said Kim Smith, two time MWC Player of the Year. "It was incredibly hard. We kept wishing our name popped up, and when it didn't, I can't even describe the feeling."

Utah coach Elaine Elliott announced the decision not to accept the WNIT invitation following an emotional 45-minute team meeting.

Going to the WNIT was simply not one of her team's goals, she said.

"I told them it isn't for me. I don't care about it. The program doesn't need it. I don't need it," Elliott said. "It's only about them, and they chose not to do that."

"We kind of discussed our motives for going, and we didn't want to go just to prove to people that we should have been in the tournament," said Kelsy Stireman, one of four seniors on the squad.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press