SALT LAKE CITY — After losing to a ranked Arizona State team on a buzzer-beating shot two nights earlier as well as losing a starting forward to a season-ending injury in the process, the Utah women’s basketball team could have responded a couple of different ways Sunday against Arizona.
They could have hung their heads and felt sorry for themselves or they could have come out extra-motivated, ready to put their heartbreaking losses in the rear-view mirror.
It turned out to be the latter as the Utes blitzed an Arizona team that had come into the game with a 12-1 record, 2-0 in the Pac-12, while holding opponents to just 50.5 points per game.
The Utes eclipsed that total in the first half alone as they cruised to an 80-64 victory at the Huntsman Center on a snowy afternoon.
It was one of the Utes’ best performances of the season as they improved to 13-1 overall and 2-1 in Pac-12 play, despite not having two-year starter Daneesha Provo in the lineup. After shooting a blistering 73 percent in the first half, the Utes settled in at 54.9 percent for the day and 47.1 percent from 3-point range.
“I’m incredibly proud of our team,” said coach Lynne Roberts. “The last 36 hours have been really tough. It’s the worst way to lose a game and then to find out the next day that Provo tore her ACL -- it’s been a tough day and a half.”
Roberts said the team was exhausted “emotionally and physically,” but they didn’t focus on their adversity.
“We talked about what life’s about, what sports are about,” she said. “This was an opportunity for us to show what we’re really about, so I’m so proud of our team for that.”
The 6-foot Provo, who was the team’s second leading scorer at 13.5 points per game, had left Friday’s game in the second half with an injury to her right knee. After that game, Roberts said she was “not worried about it,” not that she wouldn’t miss Provo, but perhaps because she knew she had Kiana Moore waiting in the wings.
The junior guard was making her first start of the season and third of her career and she came through big-time with a team-high 19 points, including 5 of 5 from 3-point range.
“I could tell this morning she was dialed in and ready, just the look in her eyes,” Roberts said of Moore. “The thing about Kiana is she doesn’t fear anything. She’s the foxhole type of person you want. She had a look in her eye of confidence and toughness.”
Moore had been averaging 20 minutes per game off the bench, but from now on she’ll be playing more like the 33 minutes she logged Sunday. She acknowledged she was “kind of nervous” before her first start, but she was ready.
“I wanted to do it for Daneesha, for my team,” she said. “Losing Daneesha was hard and as a team we’re so close so when something like that happens you just want to do good, so that’s what I had in my mind. My teammates found me in the corner, so I was just confident about my shot and just knocked it down.”
The Wildcats had been picked for just 10th place in the Pac-12 this year, but came into Sunday’s game with the best overall record in the league, along with Utah at 12-1. They were 2-0 in conference play with a road win at Colorado Friday and win over Arizona State last week when they held the Sun Devils to just 39 points.
It took Utah just a quarter and a half to get to the 39-point mark Sunday as they raced out to a 28-15 first-quarter lead and increased it to 51-26 by halftime. Both teams slowed down in the third quarter when the Utes outscored the Wildcats 14-11, but the Utes led by as much as 30 at 65-35. Arizona finally found some offense in the fourth quarter, shooting 58 percent as they made the score somewhat respectable in outscoring Utah 27-15.
Besides Moore’s 19, the Utes got another double-double from Megan Huff, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds as well as freshman Dre’Una Edwards, who had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman guard Dru Gylten chipped in 10 points and 10 assists, with all the assists coming in the first half.3 comments on this story
Arizona was led by Aari McDonald who came in as the leading scorer in Pac-12, 3rd in nation, at 24.8 ppg. McDonald scored more than half of her team’s points finishing with 34 points and led the team with 11 rebounds despite being the smallest player on the court at 5-foot-7.
“We beat a good team today,” said Roberts. “Arizona’s a good team -- they had won 11 in a row. We controlled it from the beginning to the end.”
Next up for the Utes is a pair of road games, at Washington State Friday and at Washington Sunday. The next home game will be Jan. 18 against Colorado.