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Utah basketball: Michelle Plouffe wants to go out with a bang

Utah's Michelle Plouffe, left, battles for the ball with UCLA's Jasmine Dixon, upper right, as Utah's Danielle Rodriguez (22) looks on during the first half of an NCAA women's college basketball game in the Pac-12 Conference tournament, Friday, March 8, 2013, in Seattle. UCLA beat Utah 54-43. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

By Lya Wodraska | The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 05 2014 01:08PM
Updated Mar 7, 2014 09:00AM

Utah women’s basketball coach Anthony Levrets remembers the days when star player Michelle Plouffe was a gangly youngster surviving on raw talent and instinct.

"She couldn’t score in the paint at all," he said. "She was a perimeter player in a four-man’s body."

Suffice it to say she has she grown since those days. Unfortunately Plouffe couldn’t do enough to make her Utah teammates improve as well, and the 11th-seeded Utes head into Thursday’s Pac-12 tournament a decided underdog against sixth-seeded Washington. While the Utes’ season could be coming to a close, Plouffe’s career seems like it is just beginning to take off.

The 6-foot-4 Plouffe is projected to be a second round WNBA pick by after a season in which she finished third in the league with 14 double-doubles, eighth in scoring (18.3), second in defensive rebounds (8.3) and third in total rebounds (10.4).

Her strong all-around play will make her extremely attractive as a potential WNBA player, Pac-12 analyst Mary Murphy said.

"You get the feeling that she has barely scratched the surface of her potential," Murphy said. "She has all the skills you would want and you just feel like it’s going to happen for her."

Playing in the WNBA would be the fulfillment of a long-time goal for the senior from Edmonton, Alberta.

The Mountain West Conference freshman of the year in 2010-11, Plouffe developed into a consistent threat for the Utes, averaging more than 17 points and nine rebounds the last two seasons.

But the best way she can see honoring her career is to finish strong and help the Utes do as well as possible in the Pac-12 tournament.

"The last four years have been an amazing experience for me," she said. "I’ve grown up a lot here and met some great people along the way who will stay in my life a long time. Hopefully when I am done I can make a WNBA roster or go to Europe and play, but I’m thankful for the time I had here."

Her biggest disappointment was the inability to help Utah do more this season. After the Utes reached the final of the WNIT last year — where they lost to Drexel 46-43 ‚ Plouffe and her teammates thought they were going to make some waves in the Pac-12 this season. Unfortunately, they never broke the surface. Injuries to key players hurt team chemistry, and Plouffe had to deal with a death in her family, taking her away from the team for three weeks.

"We never got ourselves together," Levrets said. "The caliber of competition got better too, but it was still something different. We just couldn’t finish off games."

Still, Plouffe was a relentless bright spot as she continued her growth as a basketball player, Levrets said.

"She has gotten better at everything," he said. "She has a work effort that is crazy, like I haven’t seen before. If you took a picture of what you want a program to be, she would epitomize it."

The Utes have produced some great talent through the years, such as current WNBA player Leilani Mitchell (New York) and Kim Smith, who was selected as the 13th pick in the 2006 WNBA draft and is in the midst of her first year as the Utes’ Director of Community Relations.

The expectations are Plouffe will find her own success at the pro level. Her participation in the 2012 Olympics — she played for Canada — was "invaluable experience," in Murphy’s estimation.

"You need that at the pro level," she said.

Plouffe’s work ethic will help her find her niche at the next level, too, Smith said.

"The WNBA is just a whole bunch of freak athletes," Smith said. "She is an intelligent player and that is going to help her defend these athletes that she is going to go against. She isn’t used to seeing the level of athlete she will see on the WNBA level, but she has a great build and is an outstanding shooter and a hard worker. That will take her far."

Appreciative of the compliments and excited about her future, Plouffe would like to go out as a winner. Doing so will be difficult against the hometown Huskies, but Plouffe is determined to give it her best, just as she has all season.

"I think we can totally win," she said. "We’re definitely going to compete hard and if we can win a game or to and finish feeling a little better about ourselves, that would be good."

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