12-19 overall season record halts WNIT

S-Woops Colby Patterson
The Utes congratulate each other after beating Arizona at the Hunstman Center. Photo by Chris Ayers.

The Utes congratulate each other after beating Arizona at the Hunstman
Center. Photo by Chris Ayers.

The Utes came into the 2013-14 season with high hopes. After making it to the championship game of the WNIT last spring, Utah wanted to be competitive in the Pac-12 and make it into the NCAA tournament with most of its core returning.

However, the Utes fell short in meeting these aspirations, finishing the season with a 12-19 overall record with a 4-14 mark in conference play. Many of the challenges Utah had to cope with occurred before the season began, as Paige Crozon never fully recovered from a concussion she suffered last spring and Taryn Wicijowski tore her ACL during the summer. In response, head coach Anthony Levrets was forced to give bigger roles to more underclassmen than he’d planned for.

“It was an incredibly difficult season with a ton of young kids trying to learn on the fly in an incredibly difficult schedule that we had built with the idea that we were going to be a pretty seasoned, veteran team,” Levrets said.

Though the underclassmen proved to be talented, the Utes had to look to returning players such as Michelle Plouffe, Ciera Dunbar, Cheyenne Wilson and Danielle Rodriguez to carry the load even more. After struggling out of the gate, Utah finished nonconference play with an 8-4 mark, finishing that portion of the schedule on a five-game win streak.

“It was [confidence-building],” said freshman Emily Potter about the nonconference slate. “We have so many young players that it just was like we had not hit our stride as far as playing our best. We had lots of glimpses of that.”

Any momentum the Utes gained in nonconference play was shot as Pac-12 action began, as they lost their first five conference contests. Utah finally picked up its first conference victory at Washington State when Plouffe made the game-winning layup with one second remaining.

Of the Utes’ 19 losses during the campaign, three came by four points or less. A variety of issues plagued Utah down the stretch in many games, including struggles from the field, missed free throws and turnovers.

In reality, that’s how most of the season went for Utah.

“If anyone is going to take the blame, we all do collectively,” Dunbar said. “As a group, as a staff, as a team. I don’t know if there was any way that you could place the blame … It was not just one thing. We would not play good defense or would not rebound. It was a different thing every game, and that was frustrating because if it was not one thing, then it was another thing.”

Entering the Pac-12 Tournament as the conference’s No. 11 seed, the Utes saw a bright spot when they faced Washington in the first round in Seattle. Utah had lost both previous contests to the Huskies by a combined total of two points but ousted Washington in a 65-53 victory in which almost everything went right.

Unfortunately for Levrets’ bunch, the magic ran out as the Utes were ousted the next night by Oregon State to end their season. Even so, Levrets feels his team gained momentum by beating the Huskies in the first round.

“Any time you win postseason basketball games is big,” Levrets said.

“Any time you are playing in a oneand- done situation and you have to figure out a way to survive one more game, it is a good thing, and you learn a lot from that.”

Though this season saw few positives, the future looks bright, though Utah’s success in coming seasons will depend on improved health and the continued development of young players. Though Plouffe, an All-American, will be departing for the professional ranks, Wicijowski will return in the fall for her senior season.

“When you lose someone like [Plouffe] there is a huge void, and part of that will be replaced a little easier than normal when you have a young person like [Wicijowski],” Levrets said.

Moving forward, the younger players hope to help the Utes return to contention for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

“We still are going to do everything that Utah basketball does,” said Potter, who was named to the All-Pac-12 freshman team. “Now that we have a season under our belts, we know what to expect.”

b.barlow@chronicle.utah.edu