Posted: Monday March 20, 2006 3:24PM; Updated: Tuesday March 21, 2006 3:03PM
Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn react to a question at last week's news conference.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Because Steve Nash is the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, there should be very little argument that the best male basketball player in Arizona these days is Canadian. On Saturday at the McKale Center, the desert's best female hoopster was also Canadian. She was just not the Canadian who avid followers of the women's game might have thought.
Utah senior forward Kim Smith (from Mission, B.C.) is not only the Utes' all-time leading scorer, she also has been named Mountain West Conference Player of the Year four times. Smith's teammate, classmate and fellow Maple Leafer Shona Thorburn (of Hamilton, Ont.) is the school's all-time assists leader. And even though Thorburn is second in the nation in assists this season (7.1), it is Smith who garners the attention -- and the accolades.
It's as if Thorburn is the Canada to Smith's USA.
But on Saturday, Smith scored just one point in the first half. Exactly midway through the second half the No. 6 seed Utes trailed No. 11 Middle Tennessee State 57-42, and Smith was just 2 of 8 from the field. That's when Thorburn provided the ultimate assist: She took over the game.
Thorburn scored 17 points in the game's final 10 minutes as Utah avoided the upset and held off the Blue Raiders 76-71. Utah trailed 68-64 with 3:56 to play when Thorburn scored the game's next eight points. With 0:32 left, the 5-foot-10 guard, who switched to the point after her sophomore year, had given the Utes a 72-64 cushion.
"That girl, she's a winner," Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell said of Thorburn. "That was her type of game. You could tell she wanted the ball."
Being Canadian, and thus polite and thoughtful, Thorburn did not forget to lead the Utes in assists, too, with eight.