Desperate for a Pac-12 win, Utah’s women’s basketball team went within, literally, to find success Sunday against Arizona.
Fighting to fend off the Wildcats for just their second league victory of the year, the Utes (9-10, 2-6 Pac-12) kept feeding the ball inside to standout Michelle Plouffe in the final minutes of the game.
She delivered, making two three-point plays then adding a pair of free throws to key Utah’s 60-57 win over the Wildcats (4-15, 0-8) in front of 913 at the Huntsman Center.
Plouffe finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists.
“As long as she is wearing a Utah uniform, we are going to throw her the ball,” Utah coach Anthony Levrets said. “She is finally back all the way and feels comfortable being on the floor.”
Plouffe, who was absent for 21 days due to a death in her family, made her biggest impact during a run at the end of the game in which the Utes went from trailing 51-48 to leading 58-53. The senior forward had eight points and a steal during the run.
“We just weren’t executing and we were slow, so we came out of a timeout and executed a couple plays and found a lot of energy,” she said. “We got a lot of momentum and executed and got some stops.”
Plouffe’s rebounds also gave her 1,045 for her career, moving her into second place on Utah’s all-time career list.
Levrets noted that Plouffe didn’t shoot that well, going 4-for-12, but beat the Wildcats in a number of ways.
“She figures out ways to impact the game and that is what good players do,” he said. “She made some big defensive plays and big free throws.”
Arizona had several chances to tie the game at the end, but Candice Warthen’s layup was blocked by Utah’s Emily Potter. Ciera Dunbar came down with a rebound after Arizona’s Kama Griffitts also missed.
A desperation 3-point attempt at the buzzer was off the mark, giving the Utes the much needed win.
Potter finished with 15 points and three blocks.
Coming off the heels of their heartbreaking 65-62 loss to No. 14 ASU on Friday, the Utes didn’t hide the fact they needed Sunday’s game.
“I was proud of the kids,” Levrets said. “Sometimes you can be physically or emotionally tired, and tonight we were both. We had a tough loss Friday night, and to have the guts to pull that out after getting down was really big.”
The Utes host Colorado on Wednesday.
Utah 60, Arizona 57
P IN SHORT • Michelle Plouffe finishes with 20 points, and the Utes shoot 50 percent in the second half to beat the Wildcats.
KEY MOMENT • Candice Warthen’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer falls short for Arizona, allowing the Utes to improve to 6-4 in the Huntsman Center this season.
KEY STAT • Plouffe’s rebound with less than four minutes to go moves her into second on Utah’s career rebounding list, passing Deb Asper (1,042 from 1980-84).