Utah women's basketball: Utes shoot past Arizona in Pac-12 opener
Seattle • The offense is run through two talented, imposing Canadian forwards.
But in Thursday's Pac-12 Conference Tournament first-round game against the Arizona Wildcats, the offense used by the Utah Utes was to stretch the zone defense and hit many, many 3-pointers. Junior Michelle Plouffe drained a game-high four 3-pointers, while fellow junior Taryn Wicijowski found the open shooter after drawing double team after double team.
"When it's your turn," said Utah coach Anthony Levrets of his seasonlong message to his players, "you've got to make your shot."
The Utes weaved the ball around the perimeter with ease and hit a season-high 12 3-point baskets in Thursday's 66-48 victory over the Wildcats at Key Arena in Seattle. The victory was particularly sweet for the Utes, who twice fell victim to the Wildcats during the regular season.
"They played a great game," said Arizona coach Niya Butts.
Utah (18-12) was hot from deep, sinking 11 first-half 3s. The team also moved past a team it sorely wanted a third shot at and now will face No. 14-ranked UCLA (23-6) Friday afternoon in a Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal.
"All year long, we've thought the strength of this team is that we have really good post players," said Levrets, "but we have the ability to make 3s.
"You don't ever expect to make 11 out of 13 that's just crazy."
An appropriate summary.
The Utes were ready for the Arizona zone from the get-go. Senior guard Iwalani Rodrigues, who finished with 10 points and pestered Wildcat star Davellyn Whyte throughout the game, sank Utah's first 3 from behind the arc.
The rest? Well, many more 3s.
Senior Rachel Messer made three herself. Sophomore Ciera Dunbar had two. Freshman Danielle Rodriguez got in on the action with one. Plouffe, who had a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds, said seeing teammates hit big shots fueled other Utes to follow suit.
"Everyone got confidence," she said. "We just feed off each other on the court."
As for Wicijowski, she simply waited. The junior forward who finished with 14 points on 7-of-14 shooting waited for a Wildcat to collapse, and when one did, she found an open teammate.
"I was getting pretty pumped," she said. "A lot of it was coming through me. â¦ You can always knock down a wide-open shot."
Utah had many of those.
While the Utes cooled down in the second half, the defense didn't. Utah forced Arizona to commit 14 turnovers, many of which came in a second half when the Utes did not relent. The team prides itself on defense and once the basket shrunk down to normal size, Utah responded appropriately.
Now Utah gets another shot at the Bruins, a team that railroaded the Utes 70-42 on Feb 3 in Los Angeles. But Utah was without Wicijowski then, and Levrets expects Friday's matchup to be a little different than the first.
"We have talented players," he said, "and they're going to come out and compete."
Utah vs. No. 14 UCLA
O At Key Arena (Seattle)
Tipoff • Friday, 3:30 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
Radio • 700 AM
Records • UCLA 23-6, 14-4; Utah 18-12, 9-10
Last meeting • UCLA 70, Utah 42 (Feb. 3)
About the Bruins • Seniors Markel Walker, Alyssia Brewer and junior Atonye Nyingifa were named All-Pac-12. â¦ UCLA is third in the Pac-12 in scoring (68.4 points per game) and fourth in the Pac-12 and 25th in the country in rebounding margin (+7.3 per game). â¦ UCLA is 12-10 all time in the Pac-12 Tournament. â¦ All four conference losses have been to top-seven teams in the country.
About the Utes • Utah has won seven of its past 10 games. ... Junior Michelle Plouffe reached the double-digit mark for the 29th time in 30 games this season. ... Senior Iwalani Rodrigues and junior Taryn Wicijowski scored double figures for the 21st time this year. ... Freshman Danielle Rodriguez dished five assists against Arizona, the fourth time she's done that this season. ... Senior Rachel Messer moves into 10th place in Utah history for 3-pointers made (129).