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Utes regain their momentum and bury Oregon

There were a lot more happy faces at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Sunday compared to Friday

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Utah Utes guard Kennady McQueen (24) and Oregon Ducks guard Kennedi Williams (12) fight to reach the ball during a game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.

Utah Utes guard Kennady McQueen (24) and Oregon Ducks guard Kennedi Williams (12) fight to reach the ball during a game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.

Marielle Scott, Deseret News

The Utah women’s basketball team was looking forward to Super Bowl Sunday, but perhaps for a different reason than the rest of the country.

Less than 40 hours after suffering a demoralizing loss to up-and-coming Oregon State in a Pac-12 Conference game, the Utes took on Oregon. This time, there were a lot more happy faces at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Jenna Johnson scored 20 points, Maty Wilke had 17 and Alissa Pili 16 as the Utes blew past the Ducks 70-48.

While it was the seventh win in the last nine games for coach Lynne Roberts’s team, she was especially pleased the Utes regained their footing after a brief stumble.

“Proud of how the team bounced back,” she said. “It took about 20 minutes to get with the flow. We may not be the biggest team, but we’re big on heart.”

The Utes’ shooting was abysmal in their 58-44 defeat Friday against Oregon State, and they were only 6-of-33 from three-point land. They had to feel good Sunday when Wilke connected on her first shot from long range, and Jenna Johnson followed by banking in a trey late in the first quarter to give Utah a 13-10 lead.

A three-pointer by Kennady McQueen followed, and then Issy Palmer followed with another, and the crowd of 4,762 got excited as it recognized the team it had seen most often this season.

“I’m still confident about our team,” said Roberts. “The other day was just an anomaly. This team hasn’t played at full strength for a long time, but we’re still in charge of our destiny and even though we may not be the biggest team in the league, there’s a lot of fight left in this dog.”

Utah never trailed after that and, each time the Ducks closed the gap, Utah relied on hustle and extra defensive pressure by Wilke, Johnson and especially pesky point guard Ines Vieira, to rebuild its margin.

Vieira was also a big factor offensively with 10 assists. The Utes shot 41% from the field and made 12 three-pointers. In fact, they had as many three-pointers (six) by midway through the second quarter as they had the entire contest Friday.

“When you play (against a) zone, you know somebody is going to be open,” said Wilke, who eclipsed her previous season high and has scored in double figures in six of Utah’s last eight games.

With the win, Utah improved to 18-7 overall and 8-5 in league play with five games left in the regular season, starting with another home matchup at 6 p.m. Friday against Colorado.

Colorado was ranked No. 4 in the nation before being dismantled by Oregon State on its home floor later Sunday.

After Sunday’s game, Oregon dropped to 11-14 overall and 2-10 in the league. The Ducks may be in last place but the team has a talented front line led by 6-foot-8 Phillipina Kyei, 6-7 Kennedy Basham and 6-5 Grace Van Slooten.

Oregon came out in a zone defense, which limited Pili, Utah’s top scorer and last year’s Pac-12 player of the year, from finding many inside shots. It forced Utah to rely on its passing, perimeter shooting and ability to steal rebounds — and they accomplished each task.

Kyei still finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, but was double-teamed and harassed so much she never developed into a consistent factor. Van Slooten added 14 points.

Utah outrebounded the Ducks 36-32 and corralled 14 offensive boards. Roberts said she felt Wilke was probably Utah’s top player, thanks to her 5-10 effort from three-point range, and the help she offered near the basket defensively, which led to 16 Oregon turnovers.

The Ducks’ frustration was particularly noticeable in the fourth quarter. Utah led 55-41, but consecutive steals by Vieira and Lani White resulted in easy layups, and then Pili got her mojo back with two straight jumpers to build the margin past 20 points.

Not long after that, the final buzzer sounded and the Utes could focus on the other big event of the day.