Seattle • Iwalani Rodrigues didn’t take long to answer the question.
The senior Utah point guard knows exactly what’s at stake. She knows that her Utes are facing a team that had its (regular-season) number. She knows her college career is now on borrowed time.
“None of us want to stop playing yet,” she said.
In Thursday’s Pac-12 women’s tournament opener against the Arizona Wildcats (12-17, 4-14) at Key Arena in Seattle, the Utes (17-12, 8-10) have a chance at eradicating two of their most sour losses against a team that won just four Pac-12 games this season.
“I’m extremely happy,” said junior forward Michelle Plouffe. “Sweet revenge is what we’re looking for.”
The Utes got their shot against the team they’ve had in their cross hairs since their 61-52 loss in Tucson on Feb. 17. Despite finishing Pac-12 play winning eight of its last 13 games, Utah struggled against the Wildcats, who pressed the Utes and forced a multitude of turnovers. Rodrigues called it “a terrible experience.”
But, as coach Anthony Levrets explained, what is buried in the past must remain in the past in order for Utah to have a chance to move into the Pac-12 quarterfinals with a win over the Wildcats.
In the middle of the season, after Utah faced a grueling start to its Pac-12 season, playing No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Cal, No. 18 UCLA and No. 23 Colorado, the staff drew the conference standings on the board in the locker room to let the players know how far they had to go.
“We talked about it being tournament time for us since then,” Levrets said. “We’ve been in that kind of mode.”
The Utes responded.
Led by Rodrigues (12.8 points per game), Plouffe (16.9 points per game) and junior Taryn Wicijowksi (12.5 points per game), Utah finished the season on a relative hot streak, enough to earn the No. 6 seed heading into Thursday’s tournament.
“They like to know where they are and they like to know what it means, and we’re not afraid to talk about it,” Levrets said. “Tournaments are fun. This is why you play.”
Both Levrets and Plouffe said in order for Utah to finally move past the Wildcats, the team, a talented defensive group, must simply hit shots. Levrets said his group is fueled by its defense, which, when executed properly, leads to quick offense and open shots.
“It doesn’t mean we have to make every shot we take,” he said, “but we need to hit timely shots.”
Plouffe echoed the thoughts of her coach.
“In the end,” she said, “shots are going to have to fall.”
Pac-12 Tournament Arizona vs. Utah
O At Key Arena (Seattle)
Tipoff • Thursday, 3:30 p.m. MT
TV • Pac-12 Network
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Arizona 12-17, 4-14; Utah 17-12, 8-10
Last meeting • Arizona 61, Utah 52 (Feb. 17)
About the Wildcats • Senior Davellyn Whyte is averaging 16.6 points this season and leads her team in almost every major statistical category. … Of their four Pac-12 Conference wins this season, two have come against Utah. … The Wildcats have lost 12 of their past 14 games. … Cheshi Poston leads the team in blocked shots with 29. … Whyte has four fewer turnovers (145) than assists (149) so far this year.
About the Utes • Junior forward Michelle Plouffe is ranked fourth in Pac-12 scoring and was named to the All Pac-12 team this week. … Senior Iwalani Rodrigues and junior Taryn Wicijowksi were named All Pac-12 honorable mentions.