Women’s Hoops: Ute defense shuts down Wyoming

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Offense has never been a problem for head coach Elaine Elliott and the 2008 version of the U women’s basketball team.

On Sunday against No. 24 Wyoming, the No. 16 Utes proved that’s not all they can do. Utah shut down the Cowgirl offense and grabbed every rebound in sight en route to a 67-53 win that enabled the Utes to claim the regular season MWC Championship outright.

“Effort plays are everything,” Elliott said. “Getting a rebound, getting a deflection, getting a stop — there are all kinds of ways to contribute, and those kind of effort plays help.”

Elliott’s group held Wyoming’s leading scorers in relative check on the night. Forward Hanna Zavecz, who averages 13.6 points per game on the season, scored 11 points on an abysmal 3-for-12 effort from the field. Guard Justyna Podziemska averages` 13.1 points per game but didn’t make a single field goal against the Utes and finished with just three points.

Utah hade a defensive lapse late in the first half when it allowed Wyoming’s Jodi Bolerjack to hit four 3-pointers, but Bolerjack was the only Cowgirl to score in the last 10:32 of the opening half.

After the break, the Utes made a concerted effort to guard Bolerjack on the perimeter and force her to take the ball to the basket. The tactic worked. Bolerjack took only two shots in the second half and finished with 15 points after a 12-point opening half.

“We had to stop her from shooting the ball,” Utah forward Kalee Whipple said. “We started fighting through screens and tried to make her more of a driver. We really focused on making her dribble to get shots.”

The Utes pulled down 39 rebounds — 17 of which were on the offensive end — compared to only 23 for the Cowgirls. During one stretch late in the first half, Utah pulled down four consecutive offensive rebounds.

Additionally, the Utes got familiar with the floor early and often diving for loose balls. The gritty play was keyed by the performance of Whipple, who ended the game with half of her team’s 12 steals.

“We call those hustle plays,” said Whipple, who also recorded 16 points and 10 rebounds in the win. “We talked about that at halftime. That’s what’s going to win games is when you’re diving on the floor for loose balls and getting those hustle plays.”

The Utes know they can’t always control how they shoot in the upcoming Mountain West Conference and NCAA Tournaments, so to have that defense and rebounding to fall back on is a blanket of warmth for the team.

“Those things are a big deal to us,” Utah guard Leilani Mitchell said. “Wyoming has lots of shooters, and they can penetrate. But our coaches did a great job preparing us, and we knew what we need to do coming in. It gives us confidence heading into our final two games and the tournament.”

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Tyler Cobb

Halie Swayer’s strong pressure defense forces Megan McGuffey out of bounds during her attempt to drive the basket.