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SALT LAKE CITY — Despite shooting 1 of 21 from deep, the University of Utah women's basketball team avoided a disastrous loss to Utah Valley behind 21 points and 14 rebounds from freshman forward Jenna Johnson and a lifesaving interior point of attack.
The effort led the Utes to defeat the Wolverines 65-57.
"I am happy that we got the win and that our players found a way," head coach Lynne Roberts said. "It was not pretty, we missed so many shots that I kept saying during timeouts, 'It's all right, next ones are in, shoot for percentage, it's going to come back,' and it just never did. But we still found a way, we finished the game on a 9-0 run, and I thought our defense was good."
The game was a battle in the paint for a majority of the night, with the teams collectively shooting 19% from 3-point range at the half. Both squads went to work beneath the basket and it paid dividends.
"I didn't shoot too many 3s, so maybe that helped," Johnson said. "But when our shots aren't falling, (Roberts) was saying at halftime that if we aren't going to make shots, we have to get to the rim, we have to attack, we have to look inside. So just making that a focus of my game, being physical inside, and trying to get touches in there."
The Wolverines relied heavily on their size, with junior Josie Williams benefitting the most. The 6-foot-5 center had several inches on any of Utah's starters, and Utah Valley looked to make the most of it. Time and again, the Wolverines simply fed the ball inside to Williams, who easily worked her way in for a layup. At the half, Williams had a team high 9 points and game high six rebounds.
While the Utes continued to endure outside shooting woes and were unable to convert on a single attempt on their nine shot attempts, Utah continued to work the ball inside. In addition to Johnson's efforts, junior forward Dasia Young brought a ton of energy off the bench, which helped the Utes win the battle close to the basket.
Not only did Young find herself at the basket for a few easy layups, she also snagged a few rebounds and forced a turnover that led to a breakaway basket for the Utes. Thanks to her efforts and Utah's consistent inside shooting, they managed a 37-32 lead in the half, with a 52% field goal percentage despite going 0 of 9 from 3-point range.
But even Utah's inside scoring dried up in the second half and their 3-point-shooting refused to improve. Utah shot 27.3% in the second half, which put them in a tight spot and gave Utah Valley a chance to remain within striking distance.
But after missing their first 20 3-point attempts, the basketball gods shined down on Brynna Maxwell as she converted the first Utah 3-pointer of the night at the 2:15 mark of the fourth quarter. The shot sparked a fire under the Utes on both ends of the court as they orchestrated a 9-0 run to finish the game for a win.
"It was nice to finally see it go through," Johnson said. "But then also down the stretch we were a little more focused on defense and started communicating a lot more — especially at the end, every possession matters, we just locked in there, and I felt like that really propelled the 9-0 run, too."