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Seattle • Iwalani Rodrigues held up her hand in the tunnels underneath Key Arena then slowly dropped it. She wasn't distraught and she wasn't heartbroken. The Utah senior guard knew that her team just battled against one of the best teams in the country.
"It slipped," she said, waiting to finish her sentence, "right out of our hands."
The Utes, facing the No. 14-ranked UCLA Bruins in Friday's Pac-12 Conference Tournament quarterfinal, struggled in their first 20 minutes. They clanked wide-open shots and turned over the ball 12 times.
But Utah responded. It didn't quit.
In fact, Utah made a double-digit second-half deficit evaporate against the Bruins. A 15-2 run by the Utes had the Bruins on the ropes as the motion offense began clicking.
But just as good teams respond to adversity, so do great teams.
UCLA counteracted Utah's 15-2 run with a 16-2 run of its own down the stretch, eliminating the Utes 54-43 at Key Arena. As Utah began hitting on all cylinders during its own run that gave the Utes their first lead of the game with less than 10 minutes to go, junior forward Taryn Wicijowski picked up her fourth foul moments after sophomore Cheyenne Wilson drained a jumper that put Utah up 37-35.
"I think that was a huge call, but that's the way basketball works," Utah coach Anthony Levrets said. "It was the big turning point in the game, not having one of your really, really key players on the floor, but that's the way it goes."
That's when the Bruins made their move, and Utah, which struggled shooting the ball a day after having its best shooting game from behind the arc, finished 2 of 15 from 3-point land.
"I feel like we just missed shots that we normally can make," said Wicijowski, who finished with 10 points. "Obviously missing shots after we got so much momentum kind of took that away from us a little bit."
UCLA made its lethal move through senior Mariah Williams, who hit two desperation shots with the shot-clock winding down on consecutive possessions to keep the Bruins' run going. Atonye Nyingifa, Jasmine Dixon and Alyssia Brewer all finished in double figures, while All-Pac-12 player Markel Walker struggled but had five assists and three rebounds.
"We just gave them a battle," said Rodrigues, who had eight points and six rebounds, "so I know we can compete with anybody."
Levrets said the Bruins did a great job of pressuring the ball and switching on defense, which took the Utes a while to adjust to, but when they did, they made their run.
"In the second half, we eliminated that," he said. "We competed."
Now the Utes wait.
Levrets said he expects an invite to the NIT, adding he assumes Utah is out of the running for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. And speaking like a coach, he said he will continue to coach this group he loves being around until someone tells him to stop. He said the team already had the NIT in its sights minutes after being eliminated by UCLA as one player said the team, if invited, will go out and expect to win it.
"That's going to be the message," Levrets said. "The season is not over, and it's not over until they make you stop playing."
UCLA 54, Utah 43
UTAH (18-13) • Wicijowski 4-9 2-2 10, Plouffe 3-13 3-3 10, Rodrigues 3-12 2-2 8, Messer 1-2 0-0 3, Rodriguez 0-1 0-0 0, Wilson 4-8 2-2 10, Crozon 1-1 0-0 2, Bridgewater 0-0 0-0 0, Kalmstrom 0-0 0-0 0. Totals • 16-46 9-9 43.
UCLA (24-6) • Nyingifa 3-6 5-6 11, Williams 2-4 2-4 6, Brewer 5-10 0-0 10, Dixon 4-8 3-4 11, Walker 3-9 0-0 6, Korver 1-2 4-4 7, Swain 0-4 1-2 1, Fields 0-6 2-4 2. Totals • 18-49 17-24 54.
HalftimeUCLA 29-20. 3-Point GoalsUtah 2-15 (Messer 1-2, Plouffe 1-8, Wicijowski 0-1, Wilson 0-2, Rodrigues 0-2), UCLA 1-3 (Korver 1-2, Fields 0-1). Fouled OutNone. ReboundsUtah 30 (Plouffe 14), UCLA 34 (Nyingifa 8). AssistsUtah 6 (Rodrigues 2), UCLA 12 (Walker 5). Total FoulsUtah 18, UCLA 13. A3,385.