Since the season-opener last November, the ultimate goal of the Utah women’s basketball team has been to play well in March.
The Utes hit that target and then some, performing so well last month that, for the first time in program history, they get to play in April.
The Utah women (22-13, 8-10 Pac 12) will travel to Kansas State (19-17, 14-4 Big 12) for a school-record 36th game of the season to play in the semifinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
“It’s fun to be playing this time of year,” said head coach Anthony Levrets, whose team is making its seventh appearance in the WNIT.
The Utes have won four tournament games to remain one of the last four teams standing, winning three of them on the road and three of them just last week alone. Utah defeated Long Beach State (56-49) two weeks ago before picking up wins hosting San Diego (61-50) on Monday and travelling to Pacific (60-55 OT) on Wednesday and Saint Mary’s (58-55) on Friday.
“To do that you have to have kids who are tough,” Levrets said of the schedule. “You’re not going to always feel good physically when you are playing like this, but they have a fortitude about them.”
On the other hand, Kansas State has hosted all four of its games to get to the semifinal matchup and is 12-6 at home this season. The Wildcats are led by the scoring of guards Brittany Chambers and Haley Texada, who average 21.2 and 11.8 points, respectively, and have combined for nearly as many 3-pointers (183) as the entire Utah squad (197).
The Utes are 3-2 all-time against the Big 12 squad, the last meeting in 1998. Utah and the Wildcats have not played any common opponents this season.
The Utes have been led all season by the play of junior forwards Michelle Plouffe and Taryn Wicijowski.
Plouffe is averaging 17.2 points and 9.1 rebounds this year. She has had 11 double-doubles and has a school-best 249 defensive rebounds, has scored at least 20 points in 10 games this season and ranks second all-time with 126 career blocks.
Wicijowski is averaging 14.3 points and 6.9 rebounds, has had five double-doubles this season, and is shooting 52.2 percent from the floor.
Senior guard Iwalani Rodrigues is the third Utah player averaging double digits with 11.7 points per game. She leads the team in assists per game with 2.91 and is shooting 35.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
The other WNIT semifinal game is between Florida and Drexel and will be played Wednesday at 5 p.m. The WNIT championship will take place Saturday at 1 p.m.
TV Info: Utah at Kansas State Wednesday, April 3, 6 p.m. Radio: ESPN 700/espn700sports.com (Play-by-Play Rick Bouillon) Live Video at www.kstatesports.com/allaccess
Sarah Thomas is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.