#8 Utah defeats #9 Washington in Game 2 of 2020 Women's Basketball Tournament
LAS VEGAS -- The storyline for Utah's women's basketball team has been the emergence of its underclassmen. They rolled through the regular season scoring 1,430 of Utah's 1,979 points this season - a whopping 73 percent.
Nothing changed in the opening round of the Pac 12 women's basketball tournament at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Thursday.
Freshmen Lola Pendande and Brynna Maxwell each had 17 points, while sophomores Dru Gylten and Andrea Torres chipped in with 12 and 10, respectively, to lead the eighth-seeded Utes to a 72-63 victory over No. 9 seed Washington. Maxwell set the team record for 3-pointers by a freshman with 80, while her total also placed her among Utah’s all-time top 5 for single season 3-pointers.
"I really am excited about the direction of the program we have got," Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. "You know, all those guys coming back, and then we signed a top ten recruiting class. It's exciting to think about the future.
“But we're not done yet.”
No, not yet.
The reward for an opening-round win is a date with top-seeded Oregon on Friday. The Ducks have beaten Utah by 37 and 27 points during the regular season, but Roberts feels her team has improved dramatically, and the emergence of her team's maturity at the right time will have it ready for the Ducks.
“I think it is just what March Madness is - it is the month of March, and I think every team, especially this year, in the Pac-12 is just filled with amazing players and amazing talent," Gylten said. "We look at it as an opportunity to play the top team in the country, and we have nothing to lose. We're going to go out there and fight like we did today.”
Especially in the second half, when the Utes came out of halftime trailing by six but used a 21-6 run to take a 51-42 lead, while seizing momentum and taking the Huskies out of their game with a strong performance in the paint, where they outscored Washington, 36-20.
Utah outrebounded the Huskies, 37-28, including a 12-11 edge on the offensive glass, which led to 19 second-chance points.
Washington didn't go away easily, as a pair of buckets by Alexis Griggsby and two free throws by Amber Melgoza brought the Huskies within four at the end of three quarters, 52-48.
Utah answered in the fourth quarter, though, shooting 53.3 percent from the floor, including a pair of 3-pointers at the start of the period, pushing the Utes lead to eight, 60-52.
The Huskies had a chance to cut the lead to four, but Griggsby couldn't complete a three-point play, and Pendande answered with a quick jumper to give Utah a 66-59 lead with a little more than five minutes left in the game.
And after hitting five consecutive attempts that once again brought the Huskies within five, they missed their final eight attempts from the floor over the final 4 minutes, 33 seconds, making just two points in that span, both from the free-throw line.
Melgoza led the Huskies with 30 points, going 9-for-20 from the floor and a perfect 11-for-11 from the free-throw line. Melgoza became the first player in Tournament history to score 30 or more points in Pac 12 Tournament play.
“Amber Melgoza is tough, man; she's tough to stop," Roberts said. "We didn't do a very good job of it in the first half. Made some adjustments in the second half that were effective, and we did a better job. She still had 11 in that second half. That's when you know you're a really good player, is when you feel like when you shut somebody down, they only had 11 in a half.”
“She's as competitive as any competitor I have ever been around, and she's time and time again not afraid to put her team on her back, not afraid of the challenge, not afraid of failure," Washington coach Jody Wynn said of Melgoza. "She's one of those kids that's just going to find a way to get it done and never stop trying. You know, watching Amber play, you just don't ever want that 40 minutes to ever end. It is like you could just sit and watch her drive and watch her competitive juices flow all day long.”
Griggsby added 11 points for Washington, while Missy Peterson had 5 points and 7 rebounds.
W.G. Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez