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His team trails Washington 19-4. In the Huskies' backcourt are reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Kelsey Plum and All-Pac-12 first-teamer Jazmine Davis. Utah head coach Anthony Levrets needs a spark, so he turns to … well, you tell him. To whom does he turn?
Utah's usual starting point guard, Dani Rodriguez, is out with a sprained ankle.
Guard Paige Crozon last Friday became the fifth rotation player to be lost for the season due to injury, joining Emily Potter, Devri Owens, Malia Nawahine and Katie Kuklok.
Of the eight players Levrets most expected to rely on this season, two are in jerseys.
And still, his Utes manage a 13-0 run. Later, with two minutes left, they are within six. As the Huskies pull away and the Utes fall to 0-8 in conference, Levrets lives both the lowest point and the proudest moment in his career.
"When things are going like this is when it's hard to stay positive, to stay competitive, to keep fighting even though the outcome has been the same outcome over and over again," he said. "That's when you find out about your character."
Levrets' fifth season has been nightmarish. In fact, ever since 2012-13, when Utes were runners-up in the WNIT, "it's just been an avalanche" of misfortune, he said.
Last year, injuries to Taryn Wicijowski and Crozon dashed Utah's high hopes. Since then, every time he's watched a player fall to the hardwood, he said, he's felt emotionally devastated, physically nauseous.
His daughter, Caiden, makes good-luck charms for the pocket of his suit coat.
People stop him to say that they're thinking about him. They're praying for him. He's due.
"And it's appreciated," he said. "But it doesn't help on Fridays and Sundays. Positive thoughts and prayers are not what makes the ball go through the hoop. It's healthy players."
Levrets was initially reluctant to talk to The Tribune about injuries. He doesn't want his healthy players to think he doesn't believe in them, he said, because he does.
The Utes have been within two possession of the lead during the second half against six Pac-12 foes. Crozon said it's strange to think that they're 0-8. Potter, honing her jumper at the Huntsman Center four months after tearing her ACL, said that even with five players glued to the bench, "I know that we're so close to wrapping it all together."
In Wicijowski, Utah has one of the conference's best scorers (15.2 ppg, sixth) and rebounders (9.9 ppg, fourth), and Utah allows the third-fewest points per game at 59.5.
But Utah leans so hard on its linchpins. Wicijowski leads the conference in minutes per game. Rodriguez played 39 against UCLA with a respiratory infection that made it a struggle to breathe. Crozon, before her season-ending ankle injury, had re-aggravated a neck injury that caused her almost constant and often severe headaches for more than a year-and-a-half. Still, she played.
When they sit, younger players who had prepared for bit parts are asked to generate Utah's offense. Although Levrets raved before the season about the potential of freshmen Tanaeya Boclair and Joeseta Fatuesi, he may not have foreseen them combining for 55 minutes against Washington, or starting fellow freshman Gabrielle Bowie after her recovery from a stress fracture.
"It's definitely been a big adjustment," Boclair said, "going from playing high school basketball and just jumping straight into playing 20, 30 minutes a game."
Valerie Nawahine and Wendy Anae will miss Friday night's game against Arizona due to personal reasons, and if Rodriguez can't go, Levrets will have just seven players.
So scarce are healthy players that coaches are needed to play five-on-five: "There's times at practice where we don't have enough bodies to do anything," Crozon said.
Still, Levrets counts his blessings.
He's grateful that he has Wicjowski, who herself has endured a major shoulder injury and ACL tears in both knees, and who tells her recovering teammates, "You're going to come back, and you're going to be fine. It's just going to take some time."
And he believes his team's toughness is now verging on Teflon.
"I can't tell them how or why this is happening," he said. "… Eventually, we'll come through this, and each one of them will be better people, and we're going to be a better program."
Coaching can be an unforgiving profession. Levrets knows that, he said, but he hasn't allowed himself to think about job security.
He thinks about beating Arizona, and asked what it would mean to have something go right for a change, and to get back on the winning track, Levrets exhaled.
Utah vs. Arizona
P 7 p.m. Friday at the Huntsman Center; team will host more than 100 former players and coaches in a celebration of its 40th anniversary
Utah vs. No. 11 Arizona State
P 1 p.m. Sunday, the Huntsman Center
For siblings, a super Sunday
Forgive Utah freshman Jada Matthews if she doesn't stick around long to watch tape of her team's Sunday matchup with the No. 11 Sun Devils.
Her brother has a game, too, and it's kind of a big deal.
Casual fans will know wide receiver Chris Matthews for recovering an onside kick in the NFC Championship Game and keeping Seattle's Super Bowl hopes alive.
Matthews has gone from CFL to practice squad to Super Bowl, and his little sister isn't going to miss it.
Jada said she'll likely rush to the dorms to watch the game on her iPhone, while the rest of her family is on-hand in Phoenix.
"He's very excited," Jada said, adding that Chris bought a GoPro to record every moment.
"He always looks out for me, no matter what," she said. "Even before he made it to the pros, he was just always there for me, no matter what. I really appreciate that."
Growing up, Chris helped Jada work on her game, too practicing layups and free throws. Asked if Chris is any good at hoops, Jada laughed, before admitting that yes, he is.
"It's only because he's 6'6 and can dunk anywhere. But fundamentally, I think I have him."