SALT LAKE CITY — Utah women’s basketball guard Rachel Messer was battling the flu Tuesday evening. But in looking at her stat line from the Utes’ tight 62-55 victory over Northern Colorado, you would never have been able to tell.
“Rachel was really sick and managed to play probably the best game I’ve seen her play in a long time,” Utah coach Anthony Levrets said of the senior, who scored a career-high 18 points on 75-percent shooting.
“My teammates did a great job of finding me wide open,” said Messer, who was perfect from the foul line, making 2 of 2, and from behind the arc, hitting 4 of 4. “(Northern Colorado) was really worried about Michelle Plouffe, Taryn Wicijoswki, and Iwalani Rodrigues, and they did a great job of finding me when I was open and I just knocked them down tonight.”
Wicijoswki was held to just four points on the night, a significant drop from her 32.7-point average, and Rodrigues, who averages 31.3, added just six points against the Bears.
Utah (4-0) established its largest lead of 15 points less than a minute into the second half, but Northern Colorado (1-2) wouldn’t go away. The Bears’ leading scorer, D’Shara Strange, had just four points with 16:52 left in the game, but exploded for 13 of her team’s next 18 points and finished with 19.
Behind Strange, Northern Colorado took the lead, 45-43, with 4:58 remaining.
“They are a really scrappy team, they did a nice job,” Levrets said. “I am proud of the way we battled and made the plays when we needed to make them.”
In addition to Messer, who had seven of her points in the final three minutes to help Utah pull away, Plouffe was also a late-game spark for the Utes.
“(Plouffe’s) defense was so good in the last five or six minutes,” Levrets said. “We switched her over to (Strange) and she didn’t score again. I was pleased with that — with her versatility — far more than her baskets.”
Plouffe scored the final four points of the game from the foul line and finished the night with 14, putting her at 1,002 career points. She becomes the third current Utes to hit the 1,000-point mark. Rodrigues (1,033) and Wicijowski (1,026) have also gotten there.
It is the third time in Utah women's basketball history that three 1,000-point scorers have been on the team together, the last time being in the 1991-'92 season.
The Utes next travel to Ogden to play Weber State at 2 p.m. Saturday. They will be back at the Huntsman Center on Tuesday to host Utah State in a 7 p.m. game.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in mathematics from the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org