Second-half drought against subpar team dooms Utah at home.
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If one word serves as an apt description for Utah's 62-56 loss to North Dakota on Saturday afternoon, that would be it.
In losing to a team with inferior talent and a 4-6 record entering the Huntsman Center, the Utes struggled to score, allowed multiple breakdowns on the defensive end and could never recover from a prolonged drought midway through the second half.
As a result, Utah enters Pac-12 Conference play with a 9-2 record, a good RPI and a good win over Michigan. Players, however, acknowledged something was missing from their play in the past few weeks.
"When things are going good, and the ball is moving and the shots are falling, we play as a team," said senior guard Iwalani Rodrigues. "We have chemistry, everyone likes each other, and we all play well together. But when things are going wrong, we struggle."
This defeat served as a direct replica of the loss to BYU on Dec. 8. The Utes have a dominant frontcourt with Michelle Plouffe and Taryn Wicijowski. They also have little outside shooting, which allowed North Dakota to collapse all game when the ball went into the paint.
It's a strategy that worked for North Dakota. Utah shot 1 of 16 from 3-point range, many of the misses coming on wide-open looks that went awry at the worst times. Rodrigues scored a game-high 23 points, Wicijowski put up 17, and Plouffe scored 11 on 4 of 20 shooting. But the rest of the team scored a combined five points, an alarming statistic.
"There's no doubt, we have to fix it," Utah coach Anthony Levrets said. "The BYU game and tonight, the strategy has been simple. Teams have surrounded us in the post, and we haven't been able to hit open shots. We have to do better than 1 of 16 from deep. We have some of the best teams in the country over the next two weeks, so we'd better get it fixed and very soon."
With the game tied at 39-39, North Dakota went on a 10-0 run in three minutes. Although eight minutes remained when Utah scored another basket, the North Dakota run ended the game for all intents and purposes.
The Utes fought back, cutting the deficit to as little as 60-56 with 15 seconds remaining. There wasn't enough time for Utah to get any closer.
"I think we played the game today like we knew we were supposed to win," Rodrigues said. "We have to come out and play with intensity every night. You can't take nights off in the Pac-12, so we need to improve from here on out."
North Dakota 62,Utah 56
North Dakota (4-6) • Buck 4-8 9-10 18, Evers 5-7 0-0 10, Williams 3-9 2-6 8, Rothfusz 3-5 0-0 6, Lauck 2-6 1-2 6, Mills 0-1 6-6 6, Smart 1-6 0-0 2, Burck 1-1 0-0 2, Houdek 1-3 0-0 2, Loyd 1-2 0-0 2, Dillon 0-1 0-0 0. Totals • 21-49 18-24 62.
UTAH (9-2) • Rodrigues 11-16 0-2 23, Wicijowski 6-16 5-6 17, Plouffe 4-20 3-3 11, Dunbar 1-2 0-0 2, Reynolds 1-2 0-0 2, Bridgewater 0-2 1-2 1, Rodriguez 0-2 0-0 0, Messer 0-4 0-0 0, Wilson 0-3 0-0 0, Crozon 0-1 0-0 0, Kalmstrom 0-0 0-0 0. Totals • 23-68 9-13 56.
3-Point GoalsNorth Dakota 2-7 (Buck 1-3, Lauck 1-3, Dillon 0-1), Utah 1-16 (Rodrigues 1-4, Plouffe 0-5, Messer 0-4, Wilson 0-2, Dunbar 0-1). ReboundsNorth Dakota 35 (Buck 6), Utah 43 (Plouffe 12). AssistsNorth Dakota 13 (Smart 5), Utah 8 (Plouffe 3). Total FoulsNorth Dakota 16, Utah 18. A815.