For the second consecutive game, the Utah women had to make do without their best player — All-American forward Michelle Plouffe.
And for the second straight game, the Utes saw their younger players step to the forefront and play larger roles than usual.
Utah’s 66-57 win over the University of California Santa Barbara was fueled by freshman center Emily Potter, who scored 16 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots. Point guard Danielle Rodriguez also helped the team scoring 13 points and handing out six assists as Nakia Arquette had nine points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
It’s the fifth consecutive win by Utah, a team who’s rebounded after a tough start. There’s still no timetable to Plouffe’s return — she’s with her family in Canada after suffering a death in the family. But her teammates are holding down the fort without her.
“In times like these, you kind of have to make lemonade out of lemons,” Utah coach Anthony Levrets said. “I thought we were a little tired with this being our first game after the Christmas break, but you still have to play. I thought we did a nice job of getting stops down the stretch. But the good thing is that our younger players are playing more and getting more experience and that will only help us as we get into conference play.”
Utah heads into the Pac-12 with a good sense of who it is. The Utes have the ability to defend and lock teams down, but also the offense to score at a good pace, which has been lacking in past seasons.
Levrets said he was happy with the execution down the stretch, the senior leadership of Ciera Dunbar and the ability to defend at the rim, as his team blocked eight shots.
As a negative, Nicole Nesbit led the Gauchos with a game-high 23 points and was a headache for the Utah players to guard all evening.
The Utes turned the ball over 19 times, allowing UCSB take 73 shots from the field, while Utah took just 45 shots.
“We need to work on taking better care of the basketball,” Potter said. “We defended really well down the stretch and we were able to make the plays we needed when the game was close. We’re ready for the Pac-12. We know that there are a lot of good teams in the league.”
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Storylines Five straight for Utah
R Utah wins their fifth consecutive game moving to 7-4 on the season.
• Freshman center Emily Potter scores a team-high 16 points and grabs six rebounds.