SEATTLE – What’s a regular-season sweep mean to Utah? Not much, apparently. The Utes topped Arizona 66-48 in the first round of the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament on Thursday despite being swept by the Wildcats in their two previous meetings this year.
Utah bigs Michelle Plouffe and Taryn Wicijowski combined for 39 points and 13 rebounds, helping their squad to its seventh victory in nine games. Plouffe’s 25 points far exceeded her season average of 16.7 points per game and marked the junior’s fourth 20-point game in her last seven contests.
Arizona senior Davellyn Whyte did her best to keep the ‘Cats in the game, contributing 17 points and five assists in the first 20 minutes to have her hand in 27 of Arizona’s 29 first-half points, but the UA’s eight first-half turnovers hurt its chances early. Whyte finished the game with 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Utah hit 11 of 13 three-point attempts in the first half, leading the Utes to a comfortable 43-29 lead at halftime. They cooled off in the second period, but kept a double-digit lead over Arizona for the remainder of the game.
“All year long we’ve thought the strength of this team is that we have really good post players. We’re not the most athletic team on the perimeter, but we have the ability to make threes,” Utah head coach Anthony Levrets said. “You don’t ever expect to make 11 out of 13. That’s just crazy.”
Utah’s five turnovers were the lowest in tournament history, while Arizona finished with 14 total.
Utah takes on third-seeded UCLA Friday at 2:30 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Networks. The Utes only saw Cori Close’s squad once this season, when they fell to the Bruins 70-42 at Pauley Pavilion. Levrets noted that Utah was “a mess” when they met in February, citing Taryn Wicijowski’s absence due to injury and the unfortunate road slate of Cal, Stanford and USC leading up to its matchup with the Bruins.
So, what does Utah need to do to beat UCLA?
“I don’t know yet. We’re going to figure that out tonight,” Levrets said. “We’ve been really focused on this game – we talk about one possession at a time, one play at a time, one four-minute segment at a time, one game at a time. Now we’ll worry about UCLA. This will be a big challenge for us, but we feel like we have a good team.”