Utah women's basketball: Utes hope to enter Pac-12 play on high note
It is a good sign for the Utah women's basketball team that it could be not 100 percent focused on an opponent and still blow them out of the water.
The Utes (9-1), who finish their nonconference schedule at 3 p.m. Saturday against North Dakota (4-6) in the Huntsman Center, entered the Christmas break by taking care of UC Irvine, 58-42. The 16-point difference was not indicative of a game that saw the Anteaters miss 23 consecutive shots.
If everything goes according to script, Utah team should enter its Pac-12 season opener Jan. 4 against visiting California with confidence. North Dakota, which is playing the Utes for the first time, recently lost to Southern Utah and Northern Colorado.
Utah finished last season at 16-16, 8-10 in league play.
"I think that the break came at a great time both mentally and physically," Utah coach Anthony Levrets said. "It's great to get five days off as we make our last push toward conference play."
Levrets has turned Utah into a defensive machine, leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense (51.6) while holding teams to 33 percent shooting.
Guard Rachel Messer is second in the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage.
Utah currently sits in a tie with Cal for third in the Pac-12, behind Colorado and undefeated and No. 1-ranked Stanford.
Coach on the court
BYU guard Haley Steed has been a top performer in the West Coast Conference when healthy. That continued last week when the 5-foot-4 native of Syracuse was named Madness West Coast Women's Basketball Player of the Week.
This is the second such honor for Steed, who helped the Cougars (8-4) build their winning streak to five games after wins against Tulsa and Seattle.
Steed scored 25 points with 12 assists in the two games. She added five steals against Seattle.