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Smith leads Utah women in NCAA tourney vs. Duke

RALEIGH, N.C. — DePaul coach Doug Bruno doesn't want to go back to the expensive old days of scouting opponents in person. All the NCAA allows now is video exchanges, and that's fine with him.

But film didn't give him the true measure of Utah freshman Kim Smith, who on Sunday destroyed the Blue Demons with a career-high 35 points that came on everything from layins and lob passes to put-backs and 3-pointers as Utah advanced out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 73-64 win.

"I really thought we could guard her on the floor," Bruno said, lamenting that film "doesn't show you how good she is. We didn't have an answer for a great player."

Smith and the Utes will take on No. 1 Duke at 5 p.m. tonight in a second round game.

Bruno compared Smith's cutting abilities and movement without the ball to Larry Bird. "You need to totally focus on her," he said. "You can't slip your eye for a split second

because she's just so shrewd without the basketball."

"I guess it's an honor," said a surprised Smith when told the DePaul coach had seen Bird-like features in her play. "Cutting is a big part of my game," she acknowledged.

She attributed that to the coaching she got in high school in British Columbia. "They taught me to move without the ball. It's a key part of basketball," she said, adding that goes perfectly with Elaine Elliott's motion offense — one reason she came to Utah.

"I fit in well," said Smith, who knew there was potential for her to have a big game because DePaul likes to guard the perimeter and would likely have to put a smaller player on her.

Smith uncharacteristically admitted she was "happy with myself today," but she typically added, "it's short-lived. We've got to focus on Tuesday. I need to put on another big performance."

That's because 24-6 Utah meets 32-1 Duke tonight at North Carolina State's Reynolds Coliseum.

"I don't think I'm that good yet," said Smith about abilities that have captivated others so much that she was named Mountain West Conference player of the year and newcomer of the year at the same time. She holds the MWC freshman-season scoring record and easily broke Utah's freshman scoring record in the first half on Sunday. She now has 520 points, 15 past the old record.

Her 35 points tied as the second-best game in Ute history and for second with three others in the history of the Midwest Regional's first and second rounds.

But what she sees immediately after her career-best game is a need to improve her defense, develop a mid-range shot and, well, "The list goes on and on," she said

Like most Canadian youngsters, Kim and her sisters "grew up in a hockey rink." Kim remembers going to her father's hockey games and bouncing a basketball around while he played. Jay Smith was a good high school player, and he taught his girls to play and coached them until Kim was in fifth grade. Then, "he handed us off to other coaches."

Already she couldn't stand losing. Others on her grade-school teams didn't mind, "but I just hate that feeling," she says. "As a kid, I was always really determined. I had endless competitions with my sister, one-on-one. That's where I got a lot of my competitiveness."

She's happy to have it. "Striving to be the best lights a fire in me, makes me want to get up every morning," she said.

The 18-year-old considers herself an average student but gets As and Bs and fumes at herself when a B shows up. "It's just another thing where you want to be perfect," she says.

By seventh grade, Smith stopped playing other sports to focus on hoops. "Basketball was always my favorite sport. What I like is that you could be one of the best players and still have so much to work on. There's always a challenge to it."

She hopes to make the Canadian Olympic team this summer and has been on her national team for two years, playing with 27-year-olds who helped her choose a college and encouraged her game. Probably some of them, plus her parents and friends and former prep teammates, spent Sunday visiting B.C. friends and taverns with satellite dishes. Canada doesn't, as a rule, get ESPN2, which televises NCAA women's games.

Smith plans to still be playing basketball into her 30s, in the WNBA and Europe, if possible.

But for now, she'd probably be happy to extend this season beyond Tuesday. "Upsets happen every day. Now they just happen on TV. If we could beat Duke, it would be a wide-open tournament," she said, allowing herself to dream.

"I have seen Kim Smith. She's phenomenal, very special," said Duke coach Gail Goestenkors, who didn't watch Sunday's game in person but had already studied some Utah film. If Utah's lucky and Bruno's right, maybe that won't be enough of an introduction.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com