Women's basketball roundup: Utes make crucial free throws down the stretch

Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 11 2012 10:57 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Free throws down the stretch helped lift the Utes to a 73-67 victory over Arizona on Saturday afternoon.

Both teams were in the bonus in the final four minutes of the game. After a pair of free throws from Janita Badon, the Utes (12-12, 5-8) led by seven, 62-55 with two minutes remaining. Arizona's Erica Barnes made a basket after a steal to cut the lead to five before the Wildcats began to foul with just under a minute remaining.

The Utes went 11-of-14 from the charity stripe in the final minute. Arizona (13-12, 2-11) made four baskets and two free throws of their own in the same span to cut the lead down to two points with 26 seconds remaining by taking advantage of a miss on two consecutive Utah attempts at the line. Rachel Messer (who was 9-of-10 from the free-throw line in the game) was 4-for-4 on her free-throw attempts in the last 25 seconds, while Arizona missed their final two attempts from the field, and Utah pulled down the rebounds.

Michelle Plouffe had 22 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double. Taryn Wicijowski tallied 20 points. Messer had all nine of her points from the free-throw line. Rachel Morris tallied a career-high eight points.

The Utes shot 49 percent from the field. The Utes were 26-for-31 from the free-throw line.

"I am very pleased with the weekend," Utah head coach Anthony Levrets said. "Getting our first sweep in a conference weekend is really nice for our team. Getting a sweep against Arizona is really nice for our team too. More importantly is how we did it. We committed in practice to working on us for a few days and I was really pleased with our defensive improvement. Arizona is a talented offensive basketball team. They have so many guards who can score that it's tough to guard them. We did a really nice job. We also defended our tails off against ASU, so it was a really good weekend for us."

Utah was down by as many as seven points in the second half. Down by six points, 39-33 with 17 minutes left, a 9-1 run gave Utah a 42-40 lead with 14 minutes remaining. The Utes would extend that run into a 17-3 run to take an eight-point advantage, 50-42, with just under nine minutes remaining.

The first half had seven ties and four lead changes. The Utes held as much as a five-point lead in the first half, but a late surge by Arizona gave the Wildcats a five-point lead at halftime, 34-24. Utah shot 48 percent in the first half compared to 33 percent shooting for Arizona, but the Wildcats scored 10 points off seven Utah turnovers. Wicijowski and Plouffe each had nine points at halftime to pace the Utes, while Arizona was paced by 15 points from Davellyn Whyte.

"We shot the ball well in the first half, but we turned it over way too much," Levrets said. "As we got that under control we got some easy baskets and got some post feeds."

Whyte led Arizona with 22 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Barnes had 17 points.

The Utes play just one game next week, taking on rival Colorado on Saturday, Feb. 18, in Boulder.

UTAH STATE 57, NEW MEXICO STATE 45: At Logan, Three players in double-figures led Utah State (16-7, 7-2 WAC) to a successful Play 4Kay event, wearing pink-themed warm-ups and pink socks in its effort to promote breast cancer awareness. NMSU (5-19, 2-7) lost its second in a row and sixth in the last eight. With the win, the navy Aggies swept the season series over the maroon Aggies for the third time in seven seasons as WAC foes, and was USU's fourth straight win over NMSU, cutting the deficit to 18-15 in the maroon Aggies' favor.

Junior guard Jenna Johnson led Utah State with a season-high 11 points, while senior forward Maddy Plunkett and junior guard Devyn Christensen netted 10 points apiece. Christensen scored all 10 of her points in the second half, as USU pulled away from a 27-18 halftime lead, improving to 13-2 on the season when leading at intermission.

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