SALT LAKE CITY — "It's not a sprint, it's a marathon," Utah coach Anthony Levrets said of the Utes Pac-12 journey following a 62-43 loss Thursday night to No.4 Stanford (14-1, 5-0).
Stanford is currently No. 4 in the nation and boasts Nnemkadi Ogwumike — the Pac-12's leading scorer. Not only does she lead the Pac-12 with 24.5 points per game, but she sits comfortably among the nation's elite, ranked third in the country. Ogumwike finished with a game-high 18 points and 13 rebounds.
"They're a very, very good basketball team with an incredibly special basketball player," Levrets said. "I thought we did a pretty good job on her for the most part, but she still had an incredible impact on the game."
Chiney Ogwumike added 11 points and 14 rebounds, and Toni Kokenis had 13 points for the Cardinal.
Despite the caliber of its top-ranked opponent, Utah put up a valiant fight; a fight that gives Levrets hope of growth and improvement in the coming weeks.
"This is the standard, this is the bar, and this is why you play. It's what you want to be around here, this is what everyone wants to be," Levrets said. "It takes time and we have good young players. We have a long ways to go and we'll continue to improve."
Thursday's match-up pitted Utah's top scoring defense in the Pac-12 — holding opponents to just 51.4 points per game — against Stanford's top-scoring offense in the league at 81.4 points per game.
The Utes remained close throughout much of the first half. They trailed by just five (20-15) with four minutes remaining, but would suffer a 9-0 run over the next three minutes. By the end of the half, Stanford had a commanding 31-20 lead.
"They're going to have a couple runs, but they've got to be runs of three, four or five points. Not nine," Levrets said. "And we gave them a couple baskets in transition and a couple off rebound put-backs in that stretch. When they're as good as they are in a set offense, you can't give them stuff on top of it."
Utah (8-7, 1-3) suffered another 8-0 Stanford spurt to open the second-half, extending the Cardinal lead to 39-20. Utah's Janita Badon scored a layup to make it 41-29 with 13:48 remaining, but the Utes couldn't get closer. The Cardinal went a 13-2 run, giving them a 54-31 lead with eight minutes left in the game.
"If we shorten up those runs a little, it may be a closer game," Taryn Wicijowski said. "But we also need to go on a run of our own, which we didn't do."
The Utes shot 27-percent, compared with Stanford's 43-percent. Wicijowski finished with a double-double in the loss, earning 12 points and 11 rebounds. Teammate Iwalani Rodrigues led offensively for the Utes with four from behind the 3-point arc and 16 total points.
"They're No. 4 in the country for a reason," Wicijowski said of the loss. "They're a really good team. It's kind of a good judge of where we are now, because that's the best that it gets."
The Utes will be back in action on Sunday, Jan. 15 in the Huntsman Center where they'll take on California. The Golden Bears are 11-5 on the season and 2-2 in the Pac-12.
"Cal is an incredibly athletic basketball team," Levrets said. "They had 63 rebounds the other night against Oregon, and they are as good as anybody that we've seen."