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Warburton’s hot hand ignites Utes

On Friday, guard Morgan Warburton’s basket with 2.7 seconds left sent Utah into the Mountain West Conference women’s tournament final.

On Saturday, the senior’s 3-pointer helped the Utes win it.

Warburton’s shot with 2:54 remaining put the top-seeded Utes ahead for good, and they beat second-seeded San Diego State 63-58 at the Thomas & Mack Center to gain the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Warburton finished with 24 points and eight rebounds and was voted tournament Most Valuable Player while leading Utah (22-9) to its second tournament title in four years.

Warburton’s 3-pointer came during a late 11-0 run that put Utah ahead 61-54. Her shot made the score 55-54.

“That takes somebody who’s willing to take the failure of missing a shot to the wonders of making a shot,” Utes coach Elaine Elliott said. “That’s what most people are fearful of. They don’t want that situation. Morgan isn’t that way.”

Former Pahranagat Valley High School star Kalee Whipple scored 21 points, all of them in the second half, and Katie King 12 for the Utes.

San Diego State (23-7) led most of the game but couldn’t put away the Utes. After Aztecs guard Coco Davis made a 3-pointer for a 54-50 lead with 4:13 left, Utah began its winning spurt.

Warburton’s 3 was the game-changer.

“We don’t usually give up 3s,” San Diego State coach Beth Burns said. “We’ll give you 2s before we give up a 3. I think that hurt psychologically. I think we just got a little panicked.”

Warburton made another heads-up play with 2:10 remaining when she inbounded a pass to Whipple for a layup to barely beat the shot clock and extend Utah’s lead to 57-54.

Guard Jene Morris led San Diego State with 22 points. She made the all-tournament team with Warburton, Whipple, Shamela Hampton of UNLV and Amy Beggin of New Mexico.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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