SALT LAKE CITY — Iwalani Rodrigues' half-court heave just before halftime swished perfectly through the net and gave the Utah Utes all the momentum they would need in a confidence-building 60-46 victory over the third-place Washington Huskies in a Pac-12 conference game Friday night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
“I just threw it up, didn’t think it was going in. I thought we had just won,” Rodrigues said about the emotions she felt after her half-court heave dropped through the net.
The game may as well had been called then, because the Utes fed off the momentum that shot gave them during the second half.
The Utes' ferocious defense swarmed the Huskies all night long as they blocked 10 shots — four each by forward Michelle Plouffe and guard Danielle Rodriguez.
“Each play they play off the dribble. We just tried to contain them,” Plouffe said.
The Huskies' top player, Jazmine Davis, had 22 points on the night, but was held to only eight points in the second half — in part due to the fantastic defense by Rodrigues.
“We made Jazmine Davis make all her baskets, and we tried not to allow all the others to get points,” Ute head coach Anthony Levrets explained. “We played team defense on Jazmine Davis, and personal defense on everybody else.”
In addition to her blocks, Plouffe added 17 points and eight rebounds to the team effort. Rodrigues, meanwhile, hit three 3-pointers and had 17 points and six rebounds.
Rodrigues explained her defensive approach to guarding Davis.
“I tried to keep her from going to the paint. She has a quick crossover move,” Rodrigues said. “She’s gonna score, but I’m proud of myself.”
The Utes' largest lead of the game came at the end when they won by 14. Utah’s crashing of the boards led to 12 second-chance points. The Utes also took advantage of 10 Washington turnovers and turned them into 12 points.
Rachel Messer, a senior, came up with a big game, as well, as she contributed 11 points.
“At the end of the year special things happen for seniors. She’s a special kid, and did an unbelievable job on (Kristi) Kingma,” Levrets said about Messer.
Kingma hit a Pac-12 record 11 3-pointers last Friday night against the Oregon Ducks, which helps explain the defensive effort the Utes needed out of Messer Friday night. Messer held Kingma to 2-of-9 shooting and 1-of-6 shooting from three-point range for five points.
The victory over the third-place Huskies gives the Utes more confidence as the Pac-12 tournament looms ahead in two weeks.
“It was a huge win. Both teams needed a win. We got another huge game on Sunday (home vs. Washington State). This was big,” Plouffe said.