Judging by the way they occupied top-row seats in the Huntsman Center's lower bowl Saturday afternoon, dozens of fans attended the Utah women's basketball team's home opener vs. South Dakota mostly for the promise of free football tickets being distributed afterward.
They were rewarded by witnessing the Utes' surge into the lead late in the fourth quarter, only to have South Dakota take an 84-81 overtime victory.
Utah junior forward Ola Makurat's 3-pointer with 8.5 seconds left in regulation briefly looked like a game winner. The Coyotes' Monica Arens then made two free throws after being fouled on a drive, forcing overtime.
Utah guard Dru Gylten, a South Dakota native, sent her team ahead 81-80 on a driving layup with 1:55 remaining in overtime, but the Utes failed to score on their last four possessions. The Coyotes (4-0) made four free throws on three trips to the line and held on, as Ute guard Kemery Martin's tying 3-point attempt from the left corner was short.
“We showed our inexperience versus a really experienced team,” Ute coach Lynne Roberts said. “You could see it down the stretch; they just had a little more poise.”
SOUTH DAKOTA 84, UTAH 81 (OT)
• Utah’s women’s basketball team takes a temporary lead with a 10-0 run late in regulation, but loses 84-81 to South Dakota in overtime at the Huntsman Center.
• Freshman forward Lola Pendande leads Utah with 19 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes.
• The Utes are 0-3 after going 11-0 in nonconference play last season; their only other November home game is Monday vs. Eastern Washington.
Freshman forward Lola Pendande scored 19 points for Utah (0-3). Markurat added 14 and Kiana Moore added 12, although Moore will lament missing a layup with the Utes trailing by two points late in overtime. On the Utes' two previous possessions, Brynna Maxwell missed an open 3-pointer and Gylten's pass sailed out of bounds in transition.
Roberts liked the way the Utes battled after trailing 10-0 and playing from behind most of the game against a team that ESPN ranks No. 1 among mid-major programs. The level of competition was “like a Pac-12 game,” she said.
The announced attendance, with free admission, was 2,138. Upwards of 1,000 fans actually were in the building, some having been lured by the Utah athletic department's football ticket giveaway that stemmed mainly from UCLA's returning hundreds of tickets. Coincidentally, Roberts used a football-style substitution pattern for most of the first three quarters, sending in a second squad of four or five players midway through each period.
The approach was fairly effective in the first half, when the No. 2 group outscored USD by five points on the way to a 35-35 halftime tie.
The Utes struggled to score in the half-court offense, especially in the third quarter after Pendande drew three quick fouls. Martin's 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter pulled them into a 54-54 tie. South Dakota gradually pulled away, but Pendande's two free throws and inside basket got Utah within 69-68, and then her blocked shot led to Gylten's assisting Makurat for the go-ahead shot from the left wing.
The Utes suddenly were positioned for a dramatic win, but the lead didn’t last, as Pendande fouled Arens in the lane and the Coyotes eventually escaped.