One game after joining the University of Utah's 1,000-point club, Kalee Whipple found an appropriate way to celebrate her milestone. The junior forward tormented USC on both ends of the court.
Whipple had 31 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals to help the Utes pull away for an 87-77 victory over USC on Tuesday night at the Huntsman Center. Morgan Warburton added 27 points, with the bulk coming from making 16-of-16 free throw attempts for Utah (6-6).
In helping the Utes beat a second straight Pac-10 opponent, Whipple set a new career high in points. She previously scored 30 points to power Utah's 79-76 win at Marquette in November.
"It's a lot of fun playing big teams like that when they don't really expect much from you and you come out there and show them what you've got," Whipple said.
Her contributions were timely in holding USC (6-5) at bay in the second half. After the Trojans took a 49-48 lead on a pair of free throws from Brynn Cameron, Whipple drained a 3-pointer to spark a 10-2 run that gave Utah a 58-51 lead with 11:51 to go in the half.
Then after USC rallied to tie it at 62-62 on a trio of baskets from Camille LeNoir, Whipple broke the ice by stealing the ball and taking it in for a fastbreak layup to give the Utes a two-point edge again.
That was the beginning of a 9-0 run — capped off by consecutive jumpers by Katie King — which put Utah in the driver's seat with a 71-62 lead.
Utah coach Elaine Elliott felt like Whipple made good things happen for both herself and the rest of the team because she did a little bit of everything.
"When you see her on the boards, in the post, shooting 3s, getting steals — that's when you know she's dialed in," Elliott said.
USC came at Utah with a full-court press at times during both halves. When the Trojans tried it, the press did not create desirable results very often.
During one first-half possession, a pair of USC defenders doubled up on King near midcourt. King flipped the ball back to Hannah Stephens. As the Trojan defenders collapsed in on her, Stephens rifled a pass to Whipple at the 3-point line.
Before the defense could even think to race back and do anything about it, Whipple unloaded a dagger from the perimeter to give Utah its largest first-half lead at 31-25.
A similar sequence occurred in the second half when USC tried to force a steal in backcourt and the Utes took advantage of the press with a layup by King to push a five point margin to seven.
"We knew they were going to press," Whipple said. "They're a good team, a long team and a quick team. So we knew that was going to be a big key to take care of that ball."
Where the Trojans found a true advantage was on the offensive glass — especially during the first half. USC nearly tripled Utah on offensive rebounds through the first 20 minutes. Nadia Parker led the way with four offensive boards, a number which equaled the Ute team total.
The Trojans ultimately outrebounded the Utes 44-36 and had 11 more offensive boards (19) than Utah (8).
Elliott sees room for improvement in several categories. But she is convinced her team is on the right path.
"We are improving," Elliott said. "We are doing more things right."