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Utah women are going after Stags at Big Dance

When Fairfield University was announced Sunday as Utah's opponent in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Ute players knew very little about their opponent.

"I think they're from Connecticut," was the response of several Ute players when asked about Fairfield.

By now, the Utes should know all about the Stags, except perhaps how a women's basketball team can possibly carry the nickname of "Stags."

The Utes (26-3) and Stags (25-5) will meet Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. at the Huntsman Center in a game televised on ESPN-TV. Prior to the Utah-Fairfield game, Iowa (20-9) and Oregon (17-11) will meet at 7 p.m.

After watching film all week, Utah coach Elaine Elliott has become familiar with Fairfield, which plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, where it finished second behind Siena.

"They've got real good size, they use a double post and support that with some good 3-point shooters," said Elliott. "On defense, they play any kind of zone and man, they're a tough rebounding team and they're a good half-court team."

The Stags are coached by Dianne Nolan, who has compiled a 381-256 record in 22 seasons as coach at Fairfield.

"We've served on committees together, and we played them a few years ago," said Elliott. "I think a lot of Dianne."

The Stags are led by 6-foot-4-inch center Gail Strumpf, who averages 15.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game and is the leading scorer in Fairfield history. All of the other Fairfield starters average in double figures, including 5-foot-7-inch guard Holli Tapley (14.7 ppg), 5-foot-11-inch Schrene Isidora (11.4 ppg), 5-foot-6-inch guard Megan Light (10.9 ppg) and 6-foot-3-inch forward Ayanna Brown (10.7 ppg).

In contrast, Utah has just one player, center Lauren Beckman (12.6 ppg), averaging in double figures.

The difference is that Fairfield is a high-scoring team, averaging 74.2 points per game, while the Utes don't score as many points as the top defensive team in the country (49.7 points per game allowed).

"We have to handle their size and not give them any putbacks," said Elliott. "We also need to take care of the ball. We've turned it over way too much lately. We need to be efficient with the ball."

While the Utes will be very concerned with stopping Strumpf inside, they also have to watch the Stags' outside shooters. The Stags ranks 10th in the nation in 3-point shooting at 38.6 percent led by Tapley and Light.

"We have to defend," said Elliott, which is something the Utes must do every night to win.

GAME NOTES: Tickets are available at just $15 for the three games Saturday and Monday and $10 for students . . . The winner of the Utah-Fairfield game will play the Oregon-Iowa winner Monday night at 9:30 . . . Fairfield has never won an NCAA game in three previous appearances, while Utah is 1-10 with its only NCAA victory coming in 1997 . . . In the only meeting ever between the two schools, Utah won 78-48 in 1987 at home.