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Las Vegas • A little bit of luck and a lot of resiliency gave the plucky University of Utah women's basketball team an improbable win against top-seeded BYU in a Mountain West Conference tournament semifinal game Friday, possibly ending the cold-shooting Cougars' NCAA Tournament dreams while prolonging their own.
Michelle Plouffe's 12-foot, buzzer-beating shot lifted the Utes to a 50-49 upset win at Thomas & Mack Center. It came after the ball was inbounded with 1.5 seconds left, then tipped in the Utah sophomore's direction.
"I don't remember a lot of that play," Plouffe said after a wild celebration. "But I just remember the ball rolling towards me. It was in a spot I knew I could make a shot from. I didn't really have a choice. I put it up, and it went in. So that's how it happened."
All in 1.5 seconds, although officials were able to review only whether the shot was off before the buzzer (it clearly was) and not whether the clock was started when the ball was tipped, or when Plouffe scooped it up.
Fifth-seeded Utah, which needed to win games Tuesday and Wednesday just to get to well-rested BYU in the semifinal, will play for the tournament championship, and the NCAA Tournament bid that goes to the winner, at 2 p.m. MST Saturday against TCU.
Meanwhile, the Cougars (23-8) have to wait until Monday's selection show to learn whether they will get a bid.
"I would say right now we are probably on the bubble of maybe we're in, maybe we're out," said BYU guard Haley Hall. "I know it is going to be a long weekend waiting to hear."
BYU coach Jeff Judkins said his team deserves a bid, based on how well MWC teams have played in the NCAAs in the past few years, but he acknowledged the Cougars' rating percentage index (RPI) might not be high enough.
That the Utes (17-16) would be playing Saturday, instead of BYU, seemed improbable for much of the second half. BYU had a 42-33 lead with six minutes remaining, and a 45-37 lead with four minutes left.
"These kids are really, really resilient. They don't know how to quit," said Utah interim coach Anthony Levrets. "Right now, we're playing our best basketball."
The Utes turned the ball over 19 times but got two big 3-pointers from Iwalani Rodrigues in the final three minutes and a three-point play by Janita Badon to get back in it. The Utes were 8 of 16 from 3-point range, while the Cougars were 4 of 17 from there and shot 31 percent from the field, 11 percentage points below their average.
Rodrigues' off-balance 3 with 46 seconds left came after BYU's Jazmine Foreman missed a front-end free throw with 1:01 remaining. It cut the BYU lead to 49-48 and set up the final dramatic moments.
The Cougars' Coriann Fraughton, who was 3 of 15 from the field, drove hard to the hoop with about 17 seconds left and the shot clock about to expire, but her heavily contested layup rolled out.
Utah's first subsequent inbounds pass was almost stolen by Foreman, but the Cougar guard stepped out of bounds, giving the Utes new life.
Rodrigues missed a shot with four seconds left, but the rebound fell out of bounds after a scramble, giving Utah the ball with less than two ticks left.
"This time of year, you got to play well, but you've also have to be lucky," Levrets said. "We got lucky tonight that the ball at the end bounced our way. If that [tipped pass] goes 3 feet one direction or the other, there's no way [Plouffe] is going to get it."
The Cougars, playing for the first time in almost a week, missed their first nine shots before Hall made their first field goal nearly seven minutes into the game.
Utah led 24-23 lead at the break.
"We didn't play our best ball tonight," Judkins said. "It was a real ugly game."
But it featured a beautiful ending at least for the Utes.
R In Short • Utah upsets top-seeded BYU on Michelle Plouffe's 12-foot shot at the buzzer in a Mountain West Conference tournament semifinal game.
Key Moment • Plouffe's shot came on Utah's third inbounds pass in the game's last 8.6 seconds.
Key Stat • Utah overcomes 19 turnovers to win its third game in four days.
Utah vs. TCU
P Women's MWC tournament finals,Saturday, 2 p.m. MST
TV • Versus