Going into its first-round game of the Pacific-12 tournament, Arizona had been successful facing Utah this season, winning both matchups, but it was a different story Thursday in Seattle, as the Utes soared to a 66-48 win.
“You play a team for the third time, it’s a difficult task,” Arizona coach Niya Butts said. “They shot the ball really well in the first half. It proved to be too much for us to come back from in the second half, especially when we didn’t shoot the ball well. We just didn’t have enough to get it done.”
Michelle Plouffe led Utah (18-12) with 24 points and nine rebounds, and after committing only five turnovers, the Utes set a new tourney record and will face UCLA at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
The Wildcats, seeded 11th in the tournament, finished their season 12-18, with Davellyn Whyte recording 23 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, in the final game of a career that saw her amass over 2,000 points – second only to Adia Barnes in program history.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me that I’m done here,” Whyte said. “It’s not over, I’m going to keep working out and see where it takes me.”
Whyte, who went to Phoenix's St. Mary's High School, also played in more games and had more minutes than anyone who has ever worn the Wildcat jersey, and she is second all-time in steals, as well.
“Davellyn Whyte’s a good a guard as you’re ever going to come across,” Utah coach Anthony Levrets said. “Iwa (Rodrigues) did a great job on her, but she had to work for every single thing she got.”
Seeded sixth, Utah held a six-point advantage for most of the first half, and a Michelle Plouffe three gave the Utes a 10-point edge, 23-13, midway through. Whyte scored a three to cut the lead to 23-17, but Ciera Dunbar answered with two quick ones of her own, keeping Utah up 29-19.
Plouffe scored another from long range in the half’s final seconds, giving Utah a 43-29 halftime advantage.
The Utes kept a healthy double-digit advantage throughout the second half and pulled away down the stretch. Whyte tossed one to the backboard in the final second.
Erica Barnes also scored nine and grabbed eight for the Wildcats, while Taryn Wicijowski had 14 points for Utah, and point guard Iwalani Rodrigues scored nine with four dimes and four steals.
Arizona, which won its opening-round game last season as a No. 12 seed over UCLA, has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2005. It was also the final game for Cheshi Poston, the 6-foot-2 post player from Chicago.
“We have a couple of seniors who we wish well, but after that it’s back to the drawing board,” Butts said.
It was Utah’s first Pac-12 tournament win, after moving over from the Mountain West Conference after the 2011 season, of which it won that league’s title. In 2012, it lost as a No. 7 seed to No. 10 Colorado.