2014 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament first round: Plouffe powers Utah to upset UW
SEATTLE – It took all day, but a team in the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament finally had its Big Dance bubble burst.
In the final game of the first round late Thursday night, the No. 11 seed Utah (12-18, 4-14 Pac-12) beat the No. 6 seed Washington 65-53 at KeyArena.
Led by forward Michelle Plouffe’s outstanding performance (30 points, nine rebounds), Utah controlled the tempo and the lane, outscoring UW 28-10 in the paint.
“I’m not going to let her go,” said Utah coach Anthony Levrets of his senior. “As good a player as she is, she’s a way better person. Her steadiness, everything about her is calm and cool and collected… it’d be really nice to play a couple of more games with her.”
The Huskies, who likely needed to reach the semifinals to make the NCAA tournament, struggled from the beginning.
After UW (17-13, 10-8 Pac-12) quickly fell behind 4-0, guard Kelsey Plum showed why she became the school’s all-time freshman scoring leader during the Huskies' surprising conference season. With a hand in her face, she knocked down a three-pointer from the top of the key to cut into Utah’s lead. Moments later, she was fouled on a strong drive to the rim, then made both free throws following a timeout to give Washington an early 7-4 lead.
Then came Utah.
Behind Plouffe, who used strong post moves and a silky mid-range game to frustrate UW's defense, the Utes orchestrated a 19-5 run. The Huskies didn’t regain momentum until forward Talia Walton made a three-pointer from the right side to cut the Utes’ lead to 25-21 with 4:09 left in the first half.
[Related video: Utah's Michelle Plouffe on getting revenge on Washington]
Despite shooting 29.6 percent (8-of-27), the Huskies somehow only trailed 31-28 at intermission. Credit Plum and Jazmine Davis, who combined for 21 points through 20 minutes while the rest struggled. Entering the game, the duo ranked as the nation’s second-highest scoring backcourt with a combined 40.1 points per game, leading the Huskies to wins in seven of their final 10 regular season contests. Plum finished with 20 points but made just three of 14 shots.
Every time it seemed Plum and Davis were going to bring them back, Plouffe responded. When Plum trimmed the Utes’ lead to 39-36 with a jumper in the lane, Plouffe ran down to the other end posted, then spun and laid it in. On another play, the All Pac-12 selection caught the ball at the high post, faced up, drove right and went through contact for an “and-one.”
“She’s good. That’s what was going on,” Levrets said.
Utah point guard Danielle Rodriguez’s floor game paced the offense. Playing with a blackened, bloodshot right eye, the sophomore from Downey, Calif. recorded 10 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
It was that sort of a night for a pro-UW crowd of 3,754. With the loss, the Huskies will wait for an invitation to the women’s NIT, while Utah advances to Friday’s quarterfinals, where it will face Oregon State at 8:30 p.m. PT in a game televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
“That's just what we're trying to do -- play as long as we can,” Plouffe said. “I didn't want this to be my last game, and I don't think we thought it was going to be. We were ready to come out and fight.”