Utah's 'loonie' strategy pays off, Young guides Baylor
Posted: Tuesday March 21, 2006 5:08PM; Updated: Wednesday March 22, 2006 10:58AM
Shona Thorburn and Utah have really bought into the powers of Canadian currency.
It was fictional Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who, in the film Jerry Maguire, was forever in search of the "quan." Last night, in a jubilant Utah locker room following the Utes' 86-65 defeat of Arizona State, junior post player Camie Oakley was in search of the coin.
"You didn't lose it, did you?" asked teammate Lydia Whitehead as Oakley rummaged through a trash container. "Keep looking."
The coin in question was a Canadian dollar, known in the provinces as a "loonie." Since the beginning of the Mountain West Conference tournament -- which Utah easily won, posting an average margin of victory of 20 points -- each Utes player and coach as well as trainer Deb Willardson has carried a loonie on them during the game. An extra loonie is hidden somewhere on (or, as was the case at the Pepsi Center in Denver for the MWC tourney, under) the court at which the Utes have played.
"Every player wears their coin during the game," says Utes point guard Shona Thorburn, one of six Canadians who play for Utah. "Some hide them in their sports bra, others in the tape around their ankles, some in the bottom of their shoes. We're going to keep doing it."
You might think of Thorburn's mom, Audrey, as the Utes' ambassador of coin. Borrowing a page from Team Canada's gold-medal-winning 2002 Olympic hockey squad, she brought 20 loonies to Denver with her from the Thorburn home in Hamilton, Ont. Four years ago, you may recall, a single loonie was hidden under the ice at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City. Canadian skaters would tap that spot on the ice, unbeknownst to everyone else, where the loonie was hidden. After Canada won the gold, coach Wayne Gretzky retrieved the gold-plated coin, which now resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
And so it was that after falling behind by 15 points late in the first half, the Utes responded like, well, the money players they are. With the Sun Devils leading 34-19 with just under six minutes to go in the first half, four-time MWC Player of the Year Kim Smith hit a three-pointer. Smith's trey was the first of 19 unanswered Utah points (doubling their total) over 7½ minutes.
Following the game, Camie Oakley foraged for the coin that had rested inside her ankle tape all night long. It lay somewhere in that large container, transforming a garbage can filled with water bottles, tape and other refuse into a veritable loonie bin. Her quest would not be denied.
"We are not leaving without that coin," Oakley said. "I can promise you that."
In the other game at the McKale Center, Baylor's Sophia Young did not, as far as anyone knows, carry any Eastern Caribbean currency from her native St. Vincent and the Grenadines on her. Still, the Big 12's all-time scoring and rebounding leader was every bit the money player in the Bears' 87-67 win against New Mexico. With 6:23 left and the defending national champs leading 71-64, Baylor defensive stopper Abi Wabara picked up her second foul in as many seconds, her fifth of the game. Suddenly it looked as though the Lobos might return to their Albuquerque home as a Sweet 16 surprise. But Young, the MVP of last year's Final Four, stole the inbounds pass and jump-started a 13-1 run that put the game out of reach. The 6-foot-1 senior was simply dominant, scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in 39 minutes.
"Coach Mulkey [Kim Mulkey-Robertson] tells [my teammates to look] to me whenever the game is close," said Young. "I like being the one they look to."
A money player.
Player Who Impressed Me
Utah's senior trio of Smith, Thorburn and Julie Larsen filled up the stat sheet as usual last night. However, it was the relentless defense of 6-foot-1 freshman Joh-Teena Filipe on Arizona State's leading scorer, Kristen Kovesdy, that helped alter the game. Filipe, whose father, John, is a bodyguard for Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) president Gordon B. Hinckley (and, really, is there a more important duty in Utah than that?), guarded the top scorer for Arizona State as if she were a head of state.
Kovesdy, a 6-3 low-post player, was the Sun Devils' leading scorer (seven points) when they built their largest lead, 34-19 late in the first half. In stepped the burly Filipe -- replacing starter Jessica Perry -- and Kovesdy did not score another point from the field the rest of the night. Filipe deflected at least three or four entry passes while also grabbing five rebounds.
"Jess was getting buried out there," said Utah coach Elaine Elliott, "so we brought in Joh-Teena. She's only a freshman, she has a lot to learn. But she really knows how to use her body to defend."
The Big Picture
Baylor and Utah both won for the same reasons: their money players stepped up and each squad played aggressive half-court defense, basically daring the refs to blow their whistles (which the zebras gladly did in the Baylor game).
In Albuquerque, the defending-champion Bears will face the winner of tonight's St. John's-Maryland game (likely the No. 2-seed Terps). The Utes will face the winner of tonight's Boston College-Ohio State game (likely the Buckeyes, who are the region's No. 1 seed).
Assuming both favorites win, Baylor and Utah will be underdogs at The Pit next weekend. If the Bears' underclassmen perimeter shooters (freshman Jessica Morrow and sophomore Angela Tisdale) show the same range they did against New Mexico (4 of 7 beyond the arc), they have an excellent chance to advance.
As for the Utes? Will 20 Canadian coins be enough to stop Ohio State's 20-game win streak, the nation's longest? Don't bank on it.