SALT LAKE CITY — Once again, the Utah women's basketball team was in striking distance but faltered in the end.
"I am going to sound like a broken record here: Proud of how hard we competed, but we just didn't make enough shots," Utah coach Anthony Levrets said after his team lost its final game of the regular season, 62-52, to UCLA at the Huntsman Center Sunday afternoon.
"We got some really good looks in transition in the stretch when we were up seven and didn't finish plays, and they went down and did finish plays. As the game went on, we didn't make enough baskets and got really cold from the perimeter," he said. "Credit to UCLA, but that's sort of a microcosm of our season."
The Utes (11-18, 4-14) and Bruins (7-11, 13-17) traded baskets throughout the first quarter of the game but gave up a 9-0 run during a 3 1/2-minute span. Utah fought back to take a two-point lead, 27-25, into the halftime locker room and was pleased to hold UCLA star Nirra Fields to just five points at the break.
The second half started with a five-point Utah run, but Bruin forwards Atonye Nyingifa and Corinne Costa quickly attracted a lot of attention, combining for 10 easy points in the paint to give UCLA a 43-39 lead.
Soon, Fields found her rhythm and, starting at the eight-minute mark, scored 14 of the Bruins' final 17 points to post 22 total.
"She's a really talented player," Levrets said. "She was 1 for 8 in the first half. I think she ended up 3 for 9 in the second half, but she got to the free-throw line 17 times. That's the big difference. We stopped her from making baskets, but we weren't able to keep her off the foul line."
Nyingifa finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, Costa finished with 15 points and eight boards, and the Bruins pulled away, moving into eighth place in the Pac-12 standings while solidifying the Utes' spot in 11th place.
"We felt like if we could keep Fields and Nyingifa to what their normal would be, we'd be OK," Levrets said. "And then a kid like a Costa comes in and gets 15. We could have lived with Fields 4 for 16 and getting 22, but Costa going 7 for 15 and getting 15 is a big deal for them."
The Utes were led, as they have been for the last four seasons, by senior Michelle Plouffe in her last home game in a Utah uniform. She had 20 points, four rebounds, four assists, a block, a steal and zero turnovers.
Fellow seniors Ciera Dunbar had four points and six rebounds and Ariel Reynolds had two points and a rebound in their final game at the Huntsman Center.
Freshman Emily Potter had 14 points, eight rebounds, an assist and a block, while Cheyenne Wilson finished with eight points, two 3-pointers and four boards.
The Utes now turn their attention to the Pac-12 tournament, which will take place this weekend in Seattle. Utah will face No. 6 Washington (17-12, 10-8), a team it lost to twice by a total of two points, Thursday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m.
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.