PROVO — All-Americans are supposed to be at their best when it matters most, and Utah's All-American Michelle Plouffe fit the bill in a thrilling 82-74 double-overtime win over BYU Saturday afternoon in the Marriott Center.
BYU thought it was over.
With 10 seconds left in the first overtime, Morgan Bailey hit a 3-pointer to put BYU up 67-65 in what was assumed the game-winning shot. The Cougars were all smiles heading into the timeout thinking they had just won the game.
“I did — I’m not going to lie. I thought that was it,” Bailey said.
Utah — and specifically Plouffe — had other thoughts.
Out of the timeout the Ute All-American took an inbound pass at the top of the key and drove relatively uncontested toward the basket to tie it at 67-67 with just 3.8 seconds remaining. BYU wasn't able to convert on a half-court buzzer beater and the teams were headed to a second overtime.
While the Cougars were in a bit of shock, the Utes looked energized and proved it with an 8-0 run out of the gate that all but buried BYU.
“It just looked like we were fresher,” said Utah coach Anthony Levrets. “I don’t know if that was the case or not, but when we were (on the bench) before we went out I could see the look in their eyes and … they were bright-eyed and excited.”
Plouffe started the second overtime period with a 3-point basket. Nakia Arquette added back-to-back baskets — her only made shots of the game — and Ciera Dunbar a free throw before the Cougars even knew what hit them.
Kim Beeston hit a 3-pointer with 57 seconds left to cut Utah's lead to 75-70, but it was far too little too late.
Utah kept its lead — hitting seven of eight free throws in the last minute — to secure the victory. Plouffe, unsurprisingly, converted all six of her attempts.
The 6-foot-3 senior Ute standout finished with a game-high 24 points and 13 rebounds, but more importantly made big shots when it mattered most.
“There’s a reason why she’s an All-American," Levrets said. "There’s not one thing you can point to any say she’s probably the best at that, but she’s pretty close to being the best at everything she does, and I think that’s her impact on the game.”
Fittingly, it was Plouffe who put the game into overtime with a jumper to tie it at 62-62 in the waning seconds.
"I’ve lost twice in five years to them, and she’s beaten (both) of those times,” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. “She’s a great player. She’s experienced and … she seems to step it up against us more than she does the other games.”
The Utes also received standout performances from center Emily Potter, who contributed 18 points and 11 rebounds along with guard Danielle Rodriguez, who had 15 points and a game-high seven assists while playing all 50 minutes of the contest.
BYU was led by Lexi Eaton who scored a team-high 20 points, but on 6-of-19 shooting. Bailey added 16 while Kim Beeston and Kylie Maeda scored 12 points apiece.
Cougar center Jen Hamson finished with just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting and was limited with foul trouble throughout. With just three minutes gone in the first half, Hamson picked up her second foul, which limited her playing time and affected her play.
“It killed us,” Judkins said of Hamson picking up her early fouls. “What happens is it affects someone like her to where she can’t be as aggressive in the post or she can’t be as aggressive defending, and that really hurt.”
Judkins was quick to credit Utah and its defensive execution on both Hamson and Eaton.
"Utah played us like we thought they would, and they stuck with it," he said. "That's a great team and they were better than us tonight, but we'll get better."
For Utah, coming out of Provo against its formerly undefeated bitter rival couldn't feel sweeter.
"It feels sweet because (BYU) is undefeated, but it's going to feel sweet if they're 1-8 or if we're 1-4 or whatever the records are," Rodriguez said. "It's always going to be sweet beating your rivals."