The Women of Troy came into the contest looking to win two straight games in Pac-12 play; instead they left the Galen Center dazed and confused after a befuddling 63-60 loss to the hapless Utah Utes.
The Utes (11-8, 2-7) had lost seven out of their last eight games and if that were not enough, they had to play without their best player. Junior forward Taryan Wicijowski, who was averaging 14.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, was out due to a torn meniscus in her right knee.
Something that should have killed Utah’s spirit, but instead led to a more inspired team effort to pull out the victory. “You gotta come out every night. Every game isn’t a given and you have to come perform, compete and stay competitive or else you lose games like this,” said Head Coach Michael Cooper.
In a surprise to most in attendance, the Trojans actually trailed for most of the second half needing a frantic rally to cut the lead down to two with 13 seconds to play. Cassie Harberts missed the first of two shots, giving the Trojans one desperation attempt to force overtime.
Ariya Crook stepped behind the three-point line and hit the front of the rim as the clock expired giving Utah the victory. The loss extends the Women of Troy’s discouraging 1-4 stretch that features three double-digit leads lost and staggering inconsistent play on a half-by-half basis.
USC capitalized on their size advantage in almost every category during the first half but only finished the frame with a 26-24 lead. The Trojans dominated the glass, racking in 11 offensive rebounds in the first half led by five from Alexyz Vaioletama’s. Despite dominating the stat sheet, the Trojans glaring shooting deficiencies kept Utah in the contest.
In a half full of defense and lackluster play the Trojans could only muster 31-percent shooting from the field. Despite the bad shooting USC capitalized on the offensive glass leading to six second-chance points. The Women of Troy struggled to find any consistency on the offensive end resorting to contested shots and six first-half turnovers.
In the second half, Utah came out firing from shooting 57-percent from the field. The Utes scored 39 second-half points by driving to the basket and getting to the line 21 times in the frame. After playing suffocating defense to begin the game, the Women of Troy struggled to contain the Utah attack.
“That’s been our Achilles heel, the second half in our defense. We stop doing what we are supposed to do and it costs us victories,” according to coach Cooper.
The Utes jumped out to a 10 point second-half lead with just over nine minutes to play in the second half. Cassie Harberts attempted to keep the Trojans in the game by scoring 12 points in the frame.
For much of the season Harberts has been too heavily relied upon to carry the offense for the Women of Troy, and things once again seemed destined to repeat themselves as Utah began to double and even triple team her.
Crook came to the rescue carrying the second-half scoring load for the Women of Troy. When the Trojans fell behind by ten points, Crook outproduced the Utes by scoring 13 points in the final ten minutes of play. She finished the game shooting 7-14 from the field including some outstanding contested layups.
Utah received a bulk of their scoring from three players; Iwalani Rodrigues, Paige Crozon and Michelle Plouffe. The three ladies combined for 50 of Utah’s 63 points, led by Rodrigues 23 points. At one point in the second half, Rodrigues scored eight straight Utah points decimating the Trojan defense.
“We planned to contest the three-point shooters but our defense was not where it was last week, and we were not able to stop their shooting,” said Ariya Crook.
In one of the strangest stats of the night, the Women of Troy dominated the Utah bench outscoring them 22-3 and allowed no second-chance points in the contest. What kept the Utes alive was their three-point shooting especially in the first half. Utah shot 5-8 from behind the arc in the first half, in turn only making two shots inside the three-point line.
Danielle Rodriguez, a native of Downey, California received quite the warm welcome at the Galen Center. Rodriguez had a strong group of 20-30 supporters on hand to watch her scored three points in 22 minutes for Utah.
The loss sends USC to fifth place in the Pac-12 (8-12, 5-4) with a tough contest agianst Colorado set for Sunday before the Super Bowl. The victory doubles Utah’s win total in league play, (11-9, 2-7), before their road tilt at UCLA.