SALT LAKE CITY — Plagued with turnovers in the final minutes, the Utah women's basketball team fell, 65-60 to the UCLA Bruins on Thursday in the Huntsman Center.
Down 29-25 at half, the Utes made the necessary adjustments to come out blazing in the second. They built a quick lead and held a nine point advantage, 55-46 with 5:48 remaining in the game. Unfortunately, the Utes would fall victim to something they've struggled with all season: their inability to finish out a full 40 minutes.
The Bruins were all arms, utilizing their lanky, unmatched length to create chaos and rattle the Utah offense. The remainder of the game was marked with several Utah turnovers and easy transition points for the Bruins.
At 3:25 remaining, the Bruins had cut the deficit to just one point, 57-56.
"When we get pressed, we go into this frenzy mode," Taryn Wicijowski said. "We need to either go into a calm mode or an attack mode where we go score and make them pay for pressing us."
In spite of the rally, Iwalani Rodrigues refused to give up the lead, driving baseline and pulling up short for the jumper. The Utes earned a stop on the next possession and Michelle Plouffe went 1-of-2 from the foul line to bump the narrow lead to 60-56. They appeared to be weathering the storm.
However, Mariah Williams of UCLA answered quickly for the Bruins, cutting at the lead again with a jumper of her own. Back within two, they threw on the press.
A near turnover forced Utah head coach Anthony Levrets to call a timeout but it was in vain. The Utes turned the ball over on their very next possession to lose their feeble lead. Williams tied the game at 60 with 1:34 remaining.
"We work on press attack every day in practice because it can change a game so quickly," Levrets said. "I'm just disappointed. What I feel we should be really good at, cost us in the end."
The tying possession was followed by yet another Utah turnover and Thea Lemberger of UCLA snagged the lead, 62-60 with a shot from the paint. The Utes were forced to foul after a final turnover to the unyielding Bruin press attack with 0:42 remaining. The Bruins went on to put in 3-of-4 from the foul line and Utah was unable to score.
"It's incredibly disappointing for how well we played for 35 minutes, to have that result," Levrets said. "The first half they got us with offensive rebounding. In the second half they only got one offensive rebound, but then they turn us over with their press and get easy baskets."
Four players scored in double figures for the Utes, led by 14 points from Wicijowski. Rachel Messer scored a career-high 13 points while Janita Badon and Rodrigues each had 10 points. Plouffe had a team-high 12 rebounds.
Utah struggled with rebounding in the first half, as UCLA scored off second, third, and even fourth attempts. The Bruins had 12 offensive rebounds in the first half.
UCLA was led by 21 points from Williams, while Markel Walker had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Utah returns to the Huntsman Center on Saturday, Jan. 28, taking on USC in their annual "Power of Pink" game. Fans wearing pink will receive free admission.