The Utah women’s basketball team shook off a sluggish start to earn its first league win of the season Sunday with a decisive 66-46 victory over Arizona State in front of 653 at the Huntsman Center.
The Utes (10-7, 1-5) were coming off a disappointing loss to Arizona in which they missed three free throws in the final 30 seconds while Arizona made a layup with 14 seconds to go that proved to be the decisive bucket in the 62-58 win.
The Utes made sure they didn’t have a similar missed opportunity Sunday against the Sun Devils (10-8, 2-4).
Utah closed the first half on a 12-2 run in which forward Taryn Wicijowski scored with two layups and two free throws to send the Utes into the locker room with a 29-24 edge.
The second half saw the Utes extend the lead to double digits behind the play of Wicijowski and Michelle Plouffe, who had 16 and 18 points, respectively. Iwalani Rodrigues added 16 points.
The win ended several weeks of frustrations for the Utes, who had lost their last six games, dating back to a 58-42 win over UC Irvine on Dec. 20.
“Finally is the word that comes to mind,” Wicijowski said of the long-awaited win. “It feels great.”
Wicijowski said the Utes were bothered by ASU’s defense early.
“Once we settled in, they were so far outside on the perimeter, we could get a lot of easy stuff inside,” she said.
Utah coach Anthony Levrets was proud of the way his team stayed determined through its losing streak.
“We are a desperate basketball team right now,” he said. “Not desperate as far as clutching at straws or changing what we are doing, but desperate for a win. It has been a while and we gave a few away and the players felt bad, really bad, and there was a determination we weren’t going to lose.”
The Utes shot 22-for-40 in their best effort of the season while ASU was just 17-for-52.
“We were able to come out and play the whole 40 minutes,” Plouffe said. “We didn’t have any letups. It was definitely a complete game.”
Of course, just when the Utes found the taste of victory, they have a difficult time ahead of them with a four-game road schedule that will take them to No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Cal, USC and No. 14 UCLA.
The Utes won’t be at home again until they host Oregon on Feb. 8.
“It’s going to be a hard road trip and we play two good teams,” Plouffe said of the upcoming weekend. “But if we take this and we have some confidence going into the weekend, we could surprise some people.”
Storylines Utes finally warm up for win
R IN SHORT • Utah earns its first league win of the season and ends a six-game losing streak with the victory over ASU.
KEY MOMENT • Utah closes out the first half on a 12-2 run, with Taryn Wicijowski scoring six of her 16 points in the run.
KEY STAT • ASU shoots just 7-for-24 in the second half while the Utes shot 12-for-19.