When you make it to the Final Four
You have gotten your foot in the door
Lady Utes are the talk of the town
Just two more games and they’ll wear the crown
COMMENTARY — The Utah Utes are back in the Final Four again! And no, this is not a belated April Fool’s joke.
The Runnin’ Utes ended their season weeks ago in somewhat dramatic fashion. However, the Lady Utes have quietly extended their own season and have made their way into the NIT semifinals. It is a downright shame that this story hasn’t received more attention than it has.
So let’s not get ahead of ourselves unnecessarily. Instead, these fine athletes deserve all the accolades I can come up with for their stellar play over the latter part of the season. So let’s look back a bit, shall we?
The Lady Utes raced out of the gates winning their first seven games, and nine of their first 10. Granted, these games were all against non-conference opponents, and not necessarily the caliber of teams that the Lady Utes would face night in and night out in the Pac-12.
Similar to the fate that befell the Runnin’ Utes, conference play was a real wake-up call for the Lady Utes as well. As Utah embarked on its regular conference schedule, the Lady Utes dropped six games in row, and nine of the next 11 they played.
These plucky players then dug deep and showed some real heart as they righted their sinking ship, and ended the season by winning 11 of their last 14 games.
Utah’s Chelsea Bridgewater, Rachel Messer and Taryn Wicijowski also claimed three of the five spots on the Pac-12 All-Academic First Team in women’s basketball. Ciera Duinbar and Michelle Plouffe, Jr. also made Honorable Mention All Academic. Plouffe also played on the Canadian women’s basketball team, which made it to the quarterfinals at last year’s Olympics.
True, the Lady Utes did lose in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament. However, that was only after they avenged two regular season losses to Arizona with an 18-point win in the first round of the conference tournament. The Lady Utes then lost to UCLA, the runner-up in the conference tournament.
While the Lady Utes are 4-0 in NIT play, three of those wins came on the road, and three of those wins came in a single week. Now that’s what I call impressive!
During the season, the Lady Utes were defined in large part by their stingy defense, ranking second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense. While they had a below-average scoring offense, the Lady Utes ranked fourth in field goal percentage and first in 3-point field goal percentage. In other words, they shot the ball well; they just didn’t shoot as often as they should have. Sound familiar?
Utah’s postseason play has been somewhat reminiscent of their strengths during the season. In their last win over St. Mary’s, the Lady Utes shot 47 percent on the night, including 50 percent in the second half. They also hit 11-of-22 from behind the arc for the game. At the end of the game, the Lady Utes clamped down on defense holding St. Mary’s without a single field goal for the final eight minutes.
These tireless road warriors have another road trip on Wednesday as they travel to Manhattan (Kansas, that is, not New York) to take on Kansas State. The winner will land a berth in the championship game on Saturday.
With Cal also claiming a spot in the Final Four of the NCAA Women’s Tournament, the Pac-12 has the potential to take home both titles.
While the Lady Utes continue to be cast as underdogs, a role they have played quite well through the first four games? While Kansas State will be another test of these gals mettle, I’m betting Kansas State does not have a full appreciation of what awaits them in their home arena tomorrow night.
Go Lady Utes!
Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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