Utes amp up practice in preparation for Saturday’s rivalry game


— Erin Burns

Utah is on a three-game winning streak as it heads into Saturday’s game against archrival BYU, but what has been the key to success during this streak?
As elementary as that sounds, both players and coaches are pointing to practice as the reason for their improved performance over the week-and-a-half stretch.
Previous to the winning streak, the Utes were on the road for back-to-back weekends and lost all four of their games in the 10-day span.
During that dismal stretch, what really hurt the Utes was an injury to sophomore Malia Nawahine. The Utes were still getting adjusted to moving players around following an injury to junior Katie Kuklok, and then they had to adjust to second injury to a guard.
With a young team on the road, there was not much time to switch players around.
“We’ve had kids playing positions that they’re not comfortable with,” said head coach Anthony Levrets following the loss to Portland State. “At some point in time, we really hope that doesn’t have to happen anymore.”
Once the Utes got home, they adjusted their lineup by starting true freshman Joeseta Fatuesi at the forward position, alongside star senior Taryn Wicijowski, and moved sophomore Paige Crozon from the forward position to Nawahine’s wing spot.
These are major changes to a very young team. Out of the 10 healthy players left, six are underclassmen, three of whom are true freshman.
Wicijowski is one of two seniors on the roster, and she agrees added practice time is the biggest change for the team at home.
“It’s hard on the road because you don’t have a lot of practice time,” Wicijowski said. “So you’re basically figuring out the offense in the game, and now people are getting comfortable with where they’re supposed to be.”
One player who’s getting more comfortable in a starting role is Fatuesi. She scored 16 points in the win and grabbed seven rebounds against Idaho State on Wednesday night.
“I’ve always been comfortable,” Fatuesi said. “I really like the system we run, in-out and out-in.”
One thing the California native doesn’t know much about is the Utah and BYU rivalry. Fatuesi never really saw herself playing at Utah but has some family in the state. Oh, and said family members are die-hard BYU fans.
“They said they’d only wear Utah stuff for me,” Fatuesi said. “They’ve never even had Utah stuff until I came [to Utah].”
Much more familiar with the Holy War is Wicijowski, who is in her sixth year at Utah.
“It never really matters if one team is really good that year because the rivalry changes everything,” Wicijowski said. “The intensity can fuel one team or both.”
The Cougars will be led by Lexi Eaton and Morgan Bailey, who are each averaging over 16 points per game.
“They’re good, both of us are in a tough situation right now with injuries,” Levrets said. “Interstate rivalry, it’s gonna be a fun day. We’ll have our hands full.”
The Holy War tips off at noon on Saturday in the Huntsman Center.
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