Utah women’s basketball: Young Utes step up with star player out
Women’s basketball • With All-American center away from team, U. wins fourth straight.
Published: December 21, 2013 06:50PM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:48PM

Saturday afternoon’s 69-49 win over Samford wasn’t an easy one for the Utah women at the Huntsman Center.

Yes, the Utes dispatched the Bulldogs rather effortlessly, opening the second half with a 10-2 run and never looking back. But Utah was missing its best player, Michelle Plouffe, after the senior had a sudden death in the family earlier in the week. As such, the Utes found their first game without their All-American a bit emotional.

“We definitely had her on our minds,” freshman center Emily Potter said. “We’re all a family, and it’s difficult to go through what Michelle is at this point.”

Utah coach Anthony Levrets said he isn’t placing a timetable on Plouffe’s return to the team — she’s gone back to Canada to be with her family. But against Samford, he had to be encouraged at the play of his team in Plouffe’s absence, especially the underclassmen.

Potter and Malia Nawahine — a freshman guard out of Springville — both had arguably the best games of their young careers. Both scored 18 points, which served as game-highs. Both were very efficient from the floor. Both had big impacts.

“When you are missing someone like Michelle, others have to step up and play well,” Levrets said. “Emily and Malia both had no choice but to play like they did today. We needed every bit of what they brought to the table today.”

Potter went 9 for 13 from the field, grabbed five rebounds and blocked a shot. More impressively, her output came in just 15 minutes of playing time because she battled foul trouble.

Nawahine had four rebounds and two assists. She made all three of her 3-point attempts and played 29 minutes.

“I think my teammates gave me the ball with the chance for me to do something with it,” Nawahine said. “I knocked down my first few shots and that allowed me to get comfortable.”

This is the fourth consecutive win for the Utes, who went on the road and defeated BYU last Saturday. They accomplished this by shooting 54.2 percent from the field over the course of the game. They held a 36-18 rebounding advantage and they limited Samford to 6-for-25 shooting from 3-point range. The Bulldogs also failed to put a player in double figures.

Leading 36-29 at halftime, Utah extended that to a 46-31 advantage within five minutes. The Utes, 6-4 on the season, cruised from there.

“We had people step up and play pretty well,” Levrets said. “We were able to defend them pretty well in the second half. I thought they made too many perimeter shots in the first half. And we were able to rebound and get stops. I’m proud of my team for the way they played tonight.”

Utah 69, Samford 49

O A 10-2 run to open the second half puts the game away, as Utah wins its fourth straight.

• The Utes play without senior star Michelle Plouffe, who was out for personal reasons.