Utah Utes basketball: Iwalani Rodrigues hits game-winner against Lobos
Mike Terry, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — She missed her first six 3-point attempts, but that didn't stop Iwalani Rodrigues from stepping up when her team needed her the most.
Rodrigues nailed a 3-pointer from the corner as time expired, taking a pass from Janita Badon and hitting nothing but net to give Utah a 61-58 victory over New Mexico. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Utes.
"Iwalani came over to me after she passed up a shot and I told her she was as good a shooter as anybody I've coached in 15 years," Utah coach Anthony Levrets said. "I said the next time she's open she better shoot it because it's going in, and that before the game was over she would hit a huge three for us."
Rodrigues, who made 13 consecutive 3-pointers earlier this season, shook off her shooting woes and proved her coach right, hitting her last three shots—including the game-winner—from beyond the arc. Even so, she was modest about becoming the hero of the day for the Utes.
"I just heard the countdown and knew I had to shoot it," Rodrigues said.. "It was probably the biggest shot of my life."
Utah scored only 20 points in the first half but was still in the game thanks in large part to Michelle Plouffe, who finished with 21 points, six rebounds and four steals. Plouffe's production in the first 30 minutes kept the Utes close until Badon took over late in the game.
Badon finished with 21 points (18 coming in the second half) and a team-high six assists. With her team trailing late in the second half, she was able to consistently slice her way through traffic for a series of layups that helped Utah chip away at New Mexico's lead.
"I was very happy to see Janita lead the team," Levrets said. "We went away from our motion stuff and just put the ball in her hands, and she made the right play just about every time."
After New Mexico's Porche Torrance grabbed a loose ball and put back the game-tying layup with 2.6 seconds left, it was Badon who took the inbounds pass at mid-court then found a wide-open Rodrigues in the corner.
Rodrigues finished with 11 points and two blocks, and Michelle Harrison grabbed a team-high nine rebounds for the Utes (13-14, 6-7).
Torrance led the Lobos (9-15, 3-9) with 16 points, while Jessica Kielpinski, Jasmine Patterson and Caroline Durbin had 10 points each. Amanda Best, who entered the game as New Mexico's leading scorer, finished with eight points but was held scoreless in the second half.
Utah's next game is on Tuesday at TCU. The game will start at 5:30 p.m. MT.
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