Women's basketball: Fourth-ranked Stanford cruises past Utah
Kim Smith, the University of Utah's all-time leading scorer and star of an Elite Eight team in 2006, attended the Utes' game Thursday night against Stanford.
Utah needed her on the court.
Struggling from the start against the long and athletic Cardinal, the Utes shot only 28 percent and lost at the Huntsman Center, 62-43.
Senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead fourth-ranked Stanford to its 11th straight victory.
Ogwumike's sister, Chiney, contributed 11 points and 14 rebounds as the Cardinal improved to 14-1 overall and 5-0 in the Pac-12.
Iwalani Rodrigues scored 16 points for Utah, but top scorer Michelle Plouffe was limited to only five by a Stanford defense that dominated the game.
"We had trouble against their length," said coach Anthony Levrets. "We went long stretches without scoring any baskets."
Stanford made two critical runs to bury Utah, which slipped to 8-7 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-12.
The Cardinal owned a 20-15 lead with 4:07 left in the first half, when Toni Kokenis' 3-pointer ignited a 9-0 outburst.
Stanford built a 31-20 lead before opening the second half with eight straight points.
Suddenly down 39-20, Utah never got closer than 13 in the final 17 minutes.
"If we shorten up those runs a little bit," said Utah's Taryn Wicijowksi, "maybe it's a closer game."
Said Levrets: "That's what we talked about all week. They are going to have a couple of runs. But they have to be runs of three, four and five points, not nine points."
Simply put, Utah could not function against Stanford's defense, which pushed the Utes to the perimeter.
Exhibit A: Guards Janita Badon and Rodrigues attempted 29 shots.
Plouffe, who averages 15 points a game, needed almost 19 minutes to score and finished 1-for-8 from the field.
"They are just a very, very good basketball team with an incredibly special player," said Levrets, referring to Nnemkadi Ogwumike.
"The thing that's so incredible about her is how hard she plays. ... There are a lot of talented people, but there aren't that many talented people who play so hard all the time."
Wicijowski, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, agreed.
Ogwumike is "... unbelievable," she said. "You can do your best on defense, and she still hits the shot. It can be frustrating."
Stanford hasn't lost since a 68-58 defeat at UConn on Nov. 21.
Utah lost for the third time in the Pac-12, but the Cardinal are the class of the league.
"They're just good," Levrets said. "I told our team, 'This is the standard. This is the bar. This is why you play. This is what we want to be around here. This is what everybody wants to be.' "