Women’s Basketball: Utes earn best start to conference play in seven years with win over Arizona

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Utah defeated the Arizona Wildcats on Friday night 60-55 to earn its fourth conference win of the season. The Utes landed the first punch, jumping out to a 23-12 lead following the first quarter. The Wildcats clawed back in the second, cutting the Utah lead to just six, but were never able to regain the lead.

Friday night’s win marked Utah’s best start to conference play since going 5-0 in the Mountain West conference in 2008-2009.

The Wildcats held Utah close to its season average scoring defense of 57 points per game. However, the Utes were able to power through Arizona’s gritty defense to come away with the win. Emily Potter led all Utah scorers with 14 points on a tough shooting night, 5-for-13 from the field. Despite her struggles shooting the ball as well as playing through foul trouble, Potter was able to impact the game in other areas, pulling down 12 rebounds and blocking a shot. This was Potter’s ninth double-double on the season.

Senior point guard Dani Rodriguez put her stamp on the game as well with her signature steady-play style, totaling 11 points, five rebounds and five assists on an efficient 4-of-8 shooting performance from the field. Rodriguez controlled the pace of the game, totalling 37 minutes of floor time.

With the Utes leading the Wildcats 37-31 at the break, Arizona’s LaBrittney Jones attacked the basket and scored the first bucket of the second half, trimming the Utah lead to just four points. But the Utes were prepared for the Wildcats’ charge out of intermission, containing Arizona’s leading scorer in Jones to just 1-for-7 in the period. Jones led all scorers with 19 points on 8-of-19 shooting, and also added seven rebounds.

While Utah was able to get the jump on Arizona offensively in the first half, the Wildcats put the clamps on in the second, holding the Utes to just 7-for-29 shooting from the floor. Fortunately for the Utes, they were able to follow suit in the defensive slugfest, holding Arizona to a stifling 10-of-33 following intermission to secure the victory.

The win on Friday slots Utah third in the Pac-12, tied with Stanford. The sole remaining undefeated Pac-12 team in conference play is Utah’s next opponent, Arizona State. The Sun Devils have lost just three games all year, two of which came on their home court. Arizona State is currently ranked 10th in the nation in the latest AP poll and has impressed with wins over Pac-12 counterparts Cal and Stanford.

The Utes will have little time to celebrate this win over the Wildcats as they travel to Tempe to face the Sun Devils this Sunday at 12 p.m. MST.

w.porter@dailyutahchronicle.com

@westinjay