SALT LAKE CITY — When a college basketball player reaches 1,000 career points, it is a special accomplishment. When three players on the same team hit that mark at the same time, it is truly remarkable.
The Utah women’s basketball team experienced that rare feat this season. It's the first time since 1991-92 that three Ute women have scored 1,000 career points on the same team.
“I don’t think I have ever coached a team that had three kids with 1,000 points at once,” said Utah coach Anthony Levrets, who has coached men’s and women’s college basketball for 16 years. “It is a really special thing in college athletics. It’s a pretty exclusive club.”
Senior guard Iwalani Rodrigues has accumulated 1,146 points during her time at Utah, while junior forwards Taryn Wicijowski and Michelle Plouffe have totaled 1,178 and 1,137 points, respectively. All three players hit the milestone within 10 days of each other at the beginning of the current season, allowing Wicijowski and Plouffe nearly two full seasons to add to their totals.
“Who knows where they can get to?” Levrets said. “Having three players like that makes it pretty fun.”
While the accomplishment is a nice feather in the individual caps of Rodrigues, Wicijowski and Plouffe, what it means for the on-court success of the team as a whole is particularly pleasing for Levrets. The Utes (9-4, 0-2) are three games into their Pac-12 schedule. The league includes four top-25 teams, and despite coming up short, the Utes held their own against then-No. 7 California and then-No. 4 Stanford.
“It’s cool for them, but it’s great for us,” Levrets said. “They all (score) in different ways; they play all over the floor and all of them can play inside and outside. We can run different things to get each one of them shots.”
Change in scenery
A native of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, Rodrigues shined as a prep athlete. She chose to attend Utah, trading the island life for new experiences.
“My grades weren’t all that good, so I didn’t have many options,” Rodrigues said. “But I enjoyed the (Utah) coaching staff and the girls on my visit. I have spent five years here. I enjoyed it.”
Rodrigues redshirted her freshman year to focus on her academics and has since flourished — both in the classroom and on the court. Rodrigues graduated in December with a degree in Speech Communications.
“Education was obviously not at the top of her priority list before, and she is walking out of here with a degree from a great institution, which is a far bigger success than the 1,000 points for her,” Levrets said. “To see her growth on and off the floor, in all facets, has been incredible to watch.”
Rodrigues, a 5-foot-9 shooting guard, reached 1,000 points with a 13-point outing against Denver in the Utes’ season-opener. In 2011, she set the school record for 3-pointers in a season with 110, and she is averaging 12.2 points per game this season.
Wicijowski is from Regina, Saskatchewan, and attended the National Elite Development Academy. She has ties to the Canadian National Team and also grew up playing hockey. She caught the attention of Utah coaches during a basketball tournament in Arizona.
“We got to see her play and five minutes was all I needed,” Levrets said. “We wanted her.”
Wicijowski is a redshirt junior who has also excelled both on and off the court. In a freak accident at the start of her sophomore year, she tore her ACL and spent the season on the sideline rehabilitating and studying.
“What she’s been able to do after an incredible freshman year and then the horrible knee injury that happened, she’s remarkable that way,” Levrets said. “She is a 3.94 double major. It’s remarkable; her ability to be a high-level athlete along with one of the best students on our campus — not just one of the best student-athletes, one of the best students on our campus.”
Wicijowski has been working toward a degree in biology all along, but the injury widened her scope.
“I want to be a doctor,” she said. “I was a biology major, and when I tore my ACL and got an extra year, I was like, ‘Well, I might as well do something with it.’ So I decided to major in psychology, too, just because it’s really interesting to me.”
Wicijowski surpassed the 1,000-point mark during a 20-point outing in the Utes’ home-opener against Southern Utah. The 6-foot-3 power forward is averaging a team-high 15.8 points this year. She was named first-team all-Pac-12 last season, and was the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year in 2010.
Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Plouffe attended the National Elite Development Academy during her junior year of high school, where she first played with Wicijowski. Together, the two have helped continue the tradition of Canadian women playing for Utah.
“Utah was actually the only visit I took,” Plouffe said. “I knew it was a great program.”
The 6-foot-4 communications major has been a dominant force since arriving in Utah, and her work has led to opportunities to play on greater stages. Plouffe represented Canada in the London Olympics last August alongside former Utes Shona Thorburn and Kim Smith.
“That was just the highlight of my basketball career,” Plouffe said. “I learned so much from all the women who have so much experience. When I got to play, it was the biggest rush ever because it was in front of so many people.”
She also enjoyed absorbing the Olympic atmosphere off the court.
“The (Olympic) Village was so cool just being around all these athletes,” she said. “You try and guess what sport they are because there’s just so many different body types.”
Levrets is pleased to have Plouffe on his roster for another year — both for her basketball abilities and her personality.
“She’s just a cool person. She’s just fun to be around,” he said. “She’s intelligent, obviously has played in so many high-level basketball games being in the Olympics, and she’s just a cool chick. I really like her.”
Plouffe hit 1,000 points on a free throw during a 14-point night against Northern Colorado and is tied with Wicijowski for a team-best 15.8 points per game this season. Last season, she was selected as an AP All-American honorable mention and an all-Pac-12 honorable mention.
With the majority of the conference season remaining and three dominant scorers leading the way, the Utes optimistic.
“The example of how (Rodrigues, Wicijowski, and Plouffe) prepare, what they do day in and day out at practice, how they approach film sessions — they’re great examples to our young kids of what we want in this program," Levrets said.
And while the goal is to continue accumulating stats and victories and to earn a spot to continue playing into March, all three players and their coach noted that the team has already achieved important success.
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had in 16 years of coaching,” Levrets said. “It’s because of those three, and all of the players. Their personality — they’re just fun to coach and be around.”