SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Taryn Wicijowski and Michelle Plouffe aren’t used to being alone on the court.
The two bigs constantly draw extra attention, double teams and physical play — but luckily neither is overly claustrophobic. So, when San Diego decided to play straight up in the second round of the WNIT, it felt like something out of a Jimmy Buffet song.
Oh, what a little fresh air can do. The two combined for 46 points and 22 rebounds in the Utes' 61-50 win over the Toreros on Monday at the Huntsman Center.
“It was the first time we haven’t seen (a) double team in the post in a long time,” Utah coach Anthony Levrets said. “They decided to play our bigs one-on-one and we thought if they kept doing that we’d have an advantage. If we see man, and that’s what we get, we’re pretty happy with that.
“That’s one of the things about postseason: You get to play people who haven’t seen you. It’s a fresh start.”
Wicijowski tallied a game-high 23 points while shooting 6 of 12 from the field and 11 of 13 from the stripe. She corralled seven rebounds along with three blocks.
“They’re out with you on the perimeter, so they don’t have a lot of backside help and they’re spread out,” she said. “So that gives a post a lot of space to work with. For the whole first half they weren’t double teaming, so that always helps.”
Plouffe wasn’t far behind her running mate with 21 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and two steals.
“I think once we started running our motion we had to read every screen and I think we just did a good job of reading and getting the ball where it needed to be,” Plouffe explained.
After starting 5 for 7 in the first half, the Utes went dry for nine minutes and 12 seconds, allowing San Diego to eventually knot things up at 16-16 until Wicijowski ended the drought with 6:04 in the first half.
Levrets credited the defense for keeping the Utes above water. Overall, Utah limited San Diego to 21-of-62 shooting and behind Iwalani Rodrigues, forced the Toreros’ leading scorer, Amy Kame, to 6-of-24 shooting.
“We feel like we can defend. It’s something that we’ve always done around here. It’s kind of our calling card. You go through slumps where you don’t make shots and can’t control foul trouble,” Levrets, whose team still shot 51 percent, said. “You can always control being in stance and contesting shots. Those are the things we do every single day in practice and it carries over to what we do on the floor.”
The Utes will play at the University of Pacific in the third round of the WNIT Thursday at 8 p.m.