After a roller coaster of a season, the Utah women’s basketball team opens the Pac-12 tournament Thursday in the middle of an upward bounce.
“This is an incredibly fun time of the year,” Utah coach Anthony Levrets said.
The Utes started out the season with seven consecutive victories and won nine of their first 10 games before hitting a six-game slide in late December. Initially the culprit was cold shooting from the field. That was only compounded by opening conference play with seven of the first 10 games against ranked opponents.
Sixth-seeded Utah (17-12, 8-10) has since righted the ship and is entering the tournament having won seven of its last 10 games, including the regular-season finale at Oregon last Sunday.
“I think we’re still getting better every day at each position,” Levrets said. “Our team defense has been really good here as of late, and for the most part our offensive execution has been good. Our ability to get good shots and make open shots has been really good down the stretch, with the exception of a couple of games. A lot of that has to do with the team we are playing, but I feel like right now we’re fairly efficient at both ends of the floor.”
The Utes meet the Arizona Wildcats at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at KeyArena in Seattle.
The Utes are led by junior forward Michelle Plouffe, who was named to the Pac-12 all-conference team and was an honorable mention selection on the all-defensive team. She has averaged 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds this season. Junior forward Taryn Wicijowski and senior guard Iwalani Rodrigues were named all-conference honorable mention and have averaged 14.3 and 12.3 points per game, respectively.
Utah lost both outings against the Wildcats during conference play — a 62-58 defeat in Salt Lake City on Jan. 18 and a 61-52 loss in Tucson on Feb. 17. Arizona, however, (12-17, 4-14) is the No. 11 seed in the tournament and has lost its last four games. The Wildcats are led by all-conference player Davellyn Whyte (16.6 points per game) and Kama Griffitts (11.0 ppg).
“There are some things that we need to get better at,” Levrets said. “The main thing is at our offensive end of the floor we have to be able to handle and attack their pressure, and when we get to the half court we need to be efficient in half-court offense and make them guard us in the half court once we do beat their pressure.”
A year ago, Utah entered the Pac-12 tournament as the seventh-seeded team and was upended on the opening day by No. 10 Colorado. Prior to moving to the Pac-12, Utah did enjoy success in the Mountain West Conference tournament. In 12 years of MWC membership, Utah was 22-8 in tournament play and won the championship four of the seven times it reached the title game.
Pac-12 women's tourney
Utah (17-12, 8-10)
vs. Arizona 12-17, 4-14
Thursday, 3:30 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700-AM
Sarah Thomas is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org