Utah basketball: Utah women have plenty of work to do in offseason
Replacing star will be hard, but a couple of key players return from injury.
Published: March 8, 2014 06:40PM
Updated: March 8, 2014 09:56PM
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Elaine Thompson | The Associated Press Utah's Danielle Rodriguez comes down with a rebound against Oregon State late Friday during the Pac-12 Tournament in Seattle. Rodriguez, who improved throughout the season, will be a key part of the Utes' team next year as a returning starter.

Seattle • Looking at the stat sheet following his team’s upset of Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday, Utah coach Anthony Levrets said he wasn’t ready to see Michelle Plouffe’s career end.

“I don’t think we can let her go,” he said.

If only he and the Utes had a choice in the matter.

If the Utes had Plouffe returning, they’d surely be a force to reckon with in the Pac-12 next season since Taryn Wicijowski (ACL) and Paige Crozon (concussion) return for the Utes.

Instead, the Utes head into the offseason feeling a little burned by bad luck in the 2013-14 season following their 50-35 loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals Friday.

There were injuries that affected the Utes (11-20) as well as Plouffe’s absence due to a death in the family. The chemistry never came together like the team imagined it would either.

“We never really caught fire like we wanted,” Plouffe said. “We had a hard time playing our best for 40 minutes.

“If games were 20 minutes long our record would be a lot better,” Plouffe added with a wry smile.

The Utes will take several weeks off to recover, both mentally and physically, Levrets said.

“We have some young talented players who will be back,” Levrets said. “They’ll come back and hit it hard and start working on the things we need to work on. We have to get better.”

The injuries surely played a part in Utah’s struggles as Plouffe was forced to carry the team. She did an admirable job, earning all-conference honors and probably a high WNBA draft spot in the process.

“She is unlike anybody I have ever coached,” Levrets said. Her ball-handling ability and the way she plays off the dribble improved even more. She has a lot of stamina to play a lot of minutes too, her work ethic was just tremendous.”

So how do the Utes go about replacing her? Luckily both Wicijowski and Crozon are recovering well and are expected to be back on the court next season at 100 percent.

The Utes also graduate starting guard Ciera Dunbar, perhaps one of the more underrated players in the league.

The good news is Utah returns plenty of talent elsewhere, including forward Emily Potter and guards Cheyenne Wilson and Danielle Rodriguez who continued to improve through the year.

They experienced plenty of rough moments under fire, but in the end they will be better off for it, Levrets said.

“They had to learn a lot of things the hard way,” Levrets said. “But they kept working and they kept learning.”

The hope is that learning will be enough to carry the Utes to bigger and better things next season. The Utes don’t head into the post-season on a positive note like they did last year when the reached the WNIT title game, but perhaps the disappointment of the most recent campaign will be a positive in the end and be inspiring in its own way.

“There is a lot of room for growth with this team,” Plouffe said. “I know they will come back and work hard in the offseason.”

Wrapping up Utah’s 2013-14

Snapshot • Finished season 11-20, 4-14 in league play, went 1-1 in Pac-12 Tournament

Starters lost • Michelle Plouffe, Ciera Dunbar

Starters returning • Cheyenne Wilson, Emily Potter and Danielle Rodriguez

Keep an eye on • Taryn Wicijowski (ACL) and Paige Crozon (concussion) return and are rehabbing from injuries well. Potter continued her development and could be the Utes’ next big star.