LAS VEGAS – During a dismal 2009-10 season, Air Force women’s basketball coach Ardie McInelly stayed positive by focusing on the future.
She noted the experience gained by the freshmen who made up half her roster – four were among the team’s top six scorers – and she touted a recruiting class that includes a pair of 6-foot-4 post players.
Those players – and the future – can’t come fast enough.
On Tuesday, the young and small present-day Falcons couldn’t contain 6-3 Utah freshman center Taryn Wicijowski and 6-0 junior forward Kalee Whipple. Wicijowski scored a game-high 24 points, while Whipple added 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds to lead the Utes to a 63-40 victory in a Mountain West Conference Tournament first-round game at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Wicijowski in particular was difficult to stop – she made 11-of-14 shots and had 17 points in the second half
“It’s hard to have a matchup like that when we’re so undersized,” said Air Force junior Raimee Beck, who scored 10 points to add to her Air Force Division I-era record for most points in a season (she finished with 405). “It’s something that hopefully we can get better height next year and see if we can handle her next year.”
Air Force cut Utah’s lead to 38-31 after senior Kathleen Schjodt (team-high 12 points) and freshman Kelsey Berger (10 points) hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions midway through the second half. But the Utes responded with a 14-2 run – with Wicijowski and Whipple taking care of all the scoring – to put the game out of reach.
With the victory, Utah improved to 20-10 and advanced to the second round. The Utes will face New Mexico in the second round at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Air Force, meanwhile, finished 3-27 and – for the second season in a row – 0-17 against Mountain West Conference competition. The Falcons have lost 37 consecutive games to league opponents, and 33 of them have been decided by double digits, including 23 by 20 or more points.
No wonder they’d rather look to the future.
“With the experience our freshmen had this year, hopefully that can boost their confidence level for next year,” said Beck, who hit two 3-pointers to give her 173 for her career, tying Megan Thiedemann (1996-2000) for the academy record.
“I think we can make some improvement definitely over the summertime and come out with a better, successful season next year.”