Air Force Falls To Utah, 63-42, At MWC Tournament


    Denver, Colo. -
    With its continuing offensive woes, the Air Force women's basketball team dropped to second-seed Utah, 63-42, in the opening round of the Mountain West Conference Championships. The Falcons wrap up their season with a 7-21 ledger, tying the school's best-ever Division I record, while the Utes improve to 24-6 and move into the semifinals versus the winner of tonight's BYU-Colorado State contest.
    Freshman Lauren Henderson (Nixa, Mo.) scored the first point of the game, hitting the second of two free throws to give the Falcons its first, and only, lead. Utah's Kim Smith, Co-Player of the Year in the Mountain West, responded with a long-range bomb, but a jumper in the paint by Henderson tied the game back up at 3-3 with 16:54 left in the opening half. However, the Utes began to turn it on offensively, putting together a 14-2 run to go up 17-5. Although five straight Air Force points cut the lead to seven, Utah pushed its advantage back into double figures, getting a three-pointer by Lana Sitterud in the last 30 seconds of the period to take a 33-18 margin into the break.
    The Utes pushed their lead to 21 early in the second half, outscoring the Falcons 8-2 in the opening four minutes of the period. Utah did not score again for more than five minutes, but Air Force was unable to exploit its advantage, scoring just six points within that span. Both teams remained cold offensively until around the four-minute mark, when Smith hit her third three-pointer of the game to give the Utes a 53-31 advantage. Air Force did outscore the Utes 11-10 in the final minutes of the contest, but it was much too late as Utah ran away with the 63-42 victory.
    While Utah held the Falcons to just 34 percent from the field, Air Force did outshoot Utah in the second half. However, the Utes took advantage of both second-chance points, scoring 18 off of their 12 offensive rebounds, and points off turnovers, with 19. The Falcons struggled from the foul line, hitting just 2-of-7 free throws for a season-low 28.6 percent. On the positive side, Air Force was successful stealing the ball from the Utes, getting 11 steals, including a career-high three from both Alecia Steele (Fr., Oklahoma City, Okla.) and Jacki Novak (So., Kewaunee, Wis.).
    "We asked one thing of our players tonight, and that was to come out and play their hardest, give it 110 percent effort, and I think our players did that," said Air Force head coach Ardie McInelly. "I just know that our players played against a pretty good team today, and we competed. I'm extremely proud of them."
    Leading the charge for the Falcons was Henderson, who scored 14 points, while adding four rebounds and an assist. Meanwhile, Novak added eight points and a career-high 10 boards, including seven on the offensive glass. Steele, Air Force's leading scorer this season, went without a point for the first time in her career, but did get five rebounds in addition to her three steals, an assist and a block. Freshman Ellen Jaeschke (Cary, Ill.) added eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, while also getting two assists, a steal and a rebound.
    Smith paced the Utes with 19 points and nine rebounds, while fellow co-player of the year Shona Thorburn had 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. Also scoring in double figures for Utah was Lana Sitterud with 11 points.

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