5:00 PM ET, January 7, 2007
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 are controlling."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 more successful."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."
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