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November 16, 2012With an opponent coming from the Big 10, one figured for a competitive game as the Michigan Wolverines rolled into town.
For Michigan, the rolling stopped as soon as they hit the Jon M. Huntsman Center, as Utah jumped out to a quick 15-0 lead in the first five minutes of the contest. The Lady Utes never looked back, and finished Michigan off with a 59-40 win.
"I think we just came out mentally prepared to play a really good team," said junior forward Michelle Plouffe.
Head coach Anthony Levrets prepared his team to come out and play "big girl basketball", as he called it throughout the week in preparation for the Utes' Big 10 opponent.
Citing a great deal of respect for the talent, size and history of the Big 10 conference, Levrets emphasized needing a special effort to compete with Michigan, despite losing two its top players to graduation and experiencing some growing pains with a new coach this season.
"They're big girls. No disrespect, at all, to other conferences, but a lot of times you're playing kids in the post that are 5-foot-11, where we're 6-foot-4, 6-foot-3 down there," said Levrets. "It's just such a different feel to it, and you play other big, strong, physical kids. You've got to be ready to play. It's a really good league, and we prepared for it. Now we've got to get over it and prepare for Northern Colorado."
Levrets' crew put together a complete game, shooting the ball well, playing defense and holding on to the ball with just five turnovers on the night.
Defense was a big key in the win, which may have been the biggest positive of the night, as the the Lady Utes intend to build their identity on defense. Friday's defensive performance was big for Levrets, citing a strong defensive foundation upon which to build.
"That's the kind of team we want to be, and the kind of defense we want to play," he observed. "So to come out that early with such a strong defensive performance, and knowing we're going to improve, and we're going to get better is really exciting."
Perusing the stat sheet, what stood out most were the "hustle" stats, which Utah dominated. With more 'want-to' than the Wolverines, Utah scrapped for every loose ball and never let up. The Lady Utes finished with six blocks, seven steals and and capitalized on turnovers with 11 points off Wolverine miscues.
"We talk about playing hard and playing smart on every possession. Every single possession is the most important one, because that's the one you're playing right then," Levrets remarked. "That's what we preach, and they preach it to each other. When you really believe in that, you're going to play hard on every possession."
Both are intangibles a coach looks for in a team, and so far, the stats bode well for Levrets and the Lady Utes who improved to 3-0 on the season.
The Lady Utes were never really challenged, and their two star forwards Tara Wicijowski and Michelle Plouffe proved to be insurmountable for the Lady Wolverines, who brought a 2-0 record with them to Salt Lake City.
Plouffe finished with 20 points, six rebounds, two assists, three blocks and a team-high four steals; an impressive line by any standards, much less for a 6-foot-4 forward.
"I think I just played more relaxed today, and I was playing too quick," observed Plouffe. "So I just tried to slow myself down, but still play my game and play confident."
Lady Ute guard Iwalani Rodrigues chimed in on Plouffe's confidence, and how that permeated to the rest of the team in pre-game warm ups and ultimately set the tone for the night.
"I think you came out with a lot of confidence this game compared to past games," Rodrigues remarked of Plouffe's pre-game demeanor. "You were confident throughout warm ups, and that was good energy for everybody else."
Rodrigues spoke from firsthand experience, as she stepped back behind the line once the Wolverines packed the paint in an attempt to stop Utah's bigs. In response, Rodrigues knocked back four three-pointers to finish with 12 on the night, one of three Lady Utes to score in double figures.
The senior guard also dished out a career-high eight assists on the night, evidence of this team's selfless play, as pointed out by Levrets.
"This team is maybe the most unselfish kids I've ever been around. What you just saw is what it's like in this program all the time, and that camaraderie translates to unselfish play on the court," beamed Levrets.
The observation may be correct, as the Lady Utes dished out a total of 18 assists on the night.
The Lady Utes host Northern Colorado on November 20.