SALT LAKE CITY — Michelle Plouffe made the difference for the Utah women’s basketball team against Arizona at the Huntsman Center on Sunday afternoon.
It was her performance that pushed the Utes to a 60-57 victory, their second Pac-12 win of the season.
The senior forward scored a game-high 20 points, and — with 13 boards — became the Utes' second all-time leading rebounder with 1,045 over her career. Plouffe’s biggest statistic of the game, however, was her one shot block, which she swatted with just seven seconds left on the game clock.
“(Plouffe) had the biggest block at the biggest time at the end of the game,” Utah coach Anthony Levrets said.
Defending a two-point lead, 59-57, Plouffe deflected a game-tying shot attempt by Kama Griffitts. Utah guard Ciera Dunbar secured the rebound and drew a foul, hit one free throw, and forced Arizona to attempt a long 3-pointer as time expired.
“She wasn’t great offensively tonight as far as shooting the ball, but she figures out ways to impact the game,” Levrets said of Plouffe, noting her 4-for-12 performance from the floor. “Thirteen big defensive rebounds tonight and then made free throws — 11 out of 14 from the line — and she had a major impact on the game.”
The Utes (9-10, 2-6) and Wildcats (4-15, 0-8) were neck-and-neck throughout the first 20 minutes and even took a 29-all tie into halftime. Neither team established more than a six-point lead during the second half, but the Wildcats look poised to pull away with a 51-45 advantage with 7:46 remaining.
“We just weren’t executing and were kind of slow,” Plouffe said. “We came out of a timeout and executed a couple plays. ... I think that gave us some momentum.”
Utah pulled back to within one point on a 3-pointer by Malia Nawahina, followed by an Emily Potter layup, and then Plouffe took over.
The forward went on her own 8-2 run with two 3-point plays and then added another free throw with 41.9 seconds left to extend the Utes’ lead to four points. Arizona’s LaBrittney Jones scored the Wildcats’ final points, setting up the deciding sequence.
“It feels great,” Plouffe said. "It wasn’t the prettiest win, but a win is a win.”
“Sometimes you’re physically tired; sometimes you’re emotionally tired. I think we were physically and emotionally tired tonight,” Levrets said. “To pull this out is a really, really big win and we’re proud of our kids.”
Griffitts scored 13 points for Arizona and Candice Warthen had 12 to lead the Wildcats.
Along with Plouffe, Potter reached double figures with 15 points and had three blocks, while point guard Danielle Rodriguez had four blocks and three assists.
The Utes’ next outing is Wednesday when they host Colorado in a 7 p.m. start.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.
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