SALT LAKE CITY — In spite of a sluggish start, the Utes overcame a 17-point deficit for the big win over USC on Saturday, 63-55.
Utah head coach Anthony Levrets was proud of the girls' resiliency as they suffered a heartbreaking loss to UCLA earlier in the week before overcoming the 17-0 start against USC.
"I think a lesser group of kids could have folded it in, but that isn't who this group is. They are unbelievable people who have been through a lot as a group already, and I think our best basketball is still ahead of us."
The Trojans built the 17-point deficit by holding the Utes scoreless for eight straight minutes. Finally, with 11:33 remaining in the half, Iwalani Rodrigues ended the drought and kicked off a Utah surge.
Rodrigues would prove to be the much-needed spark, scoring 11 points in the first half alone. The Utes scored 19 more and held USC to six, trailing at halftime by a mere two points (23-21).
Despite the momentum shift, USC came out strong in the second and extended its lead to nine before Utah turned it on. The Utes found their rhythm and never looked back.
A 13-0 Utah run gave them a five-point lead, 41-36 with 10:27 remaining.
Michelle Plouffe had seven points in the run while Taryn Wicijowski had six. They scored on seven straight possessions and earned crucial stops on the defensive end.
"It was one possession at a time," Levrets said.
In spite of Utah's dominance, USC fought to regain control as they cut the lead to one point (52-51) with six minutes remaining. Both teams went cold for the next minute and a half while Utah fans held their breath. Would it be a repeat of UCLA?
Fortunately for the Utes, point guard Janita Badon refused to surrender the advantage. She beat her defender off the dribble and laid it in with 4:30 remaining. Plouffe then further extended the lead to five, 56-51, sinking a pair of free throws.
USC answered with a pair of their own but it was Plouffe again with a soft touch off the glass. USC resorted to fouling, as they trailed 58-53 with 0:39 remaining in the game. Rachel Messer made a pair from the line, and after two missed shots from USC, Wicijowski made one-of-two to put the Utes back up eight with 13 seconds left. USC's Ariya Crook cut the lead to six, but Plouffe added another pair from the line to end the game, 63-55.
The victory came as a result of a well-distributed scoring effort. Once they found their rhythm, the Utes performed brilliantly as a team.
Plouffe, who was held scoreless in the first half, led Utah with 21 points. Taryn Wicijowski and Janita Badon both picked up double-doubles.
Badon finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds while Wicijowski added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Rodrigues dished out 14 points in the win, including some long-range redemption 3-pointers in the first half.
"It was a great win for us," Plouffe said. "To be able to finally get this win at home. … We've been playing good on the road but we haven't brought it home for a while, and we just really played together and got the win."
Badon agreed, noting the excitement at picking up a win against such a talented team.
Utah hits the road next weekend to take on Oregon and Oregon State.