- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays, Michelle Smith and Mechelle Voepel each vote to determine espnW's national player of the week, which is awarded every Monday of the women's college basketball season.
Cats might get nine lives, but giving Michelle Plouffe 10 extra minutes doomed the BYU Cougars on Saturday.
In leading Utah to in-state wins against Utah Valley and BYU this past week, the latter with one of the season's most impressive individual finishing kicks, Plouffe earned espnW national player of the week honors and provided the young Utes with some much-needed momentum.
For the first 38 minutes of the annual rivalry game in the Beehive State, BYU held Plouffe largely in check. Containing the senior star who entered averaging better than 19 points and 10 rebounds per game was one of the more significant reasons the Cougars led down the stretch and appeared poised to escape with a win and remain undefeated.
A year earlier, it had been Utah that entered the game against BYU undefeated but left with a loss after Plouffe struggled through 4-of-17 shooting. In five games against BYU over her first three seasons, Plouffe had been on the winning side just once. And as the clocked ticked down toward two minutes to play Saturday, Plouffe had just seven points and a fresh dose of frustration.
It turned out she was just getting started.
The run began with a defensive rebound on a miss by BYU's Lexi Eaton that would have given her team a five-point lead. A free throw from Plouffe on the ensuing offensive possession brought the Utes within 62-60 with 1:39 to play. She then came up with a steal on BYU's next possession and hit a shot at the other end with 63 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 62. That remained the score as the game went to overtime.
With seven seconds left in overtime, BYU still had Plouffe limited to 13 points, well below her season average of more than 19 points per game. BYU also had a 67-65 lead and another chance to escape. At which moment, coming out of back-to-back timeouts, its defense somehow failed to offer any help as the ball predictably found its way to Plouffe's hand for a virtually uncontested drive down the middle of the lane to send the game to a second overtime period.
That was one chance too many. Plouffe scored nine more points in the second overtime, including a 3-pointer to open the scoring, and Utah pulled away for an 82-74 victory. That she finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds, her second double-double of the week after totaling 21 points and 13 rebounds in the win against Utah Valley, told only part of the story. She took control.
Utah expected to have the services of one of the best frontcourt duos in college basketball this season, Plouffe and Taryn Wicijowski providing comforting insurance on a roster with nine first- or second-year players. Instead, Wicijowski was lost to a season-ending knee injury before the first game. A loss against Nebraska wasn't unexpected, but Utah lost at Utah State and against Butler and Marquette, the last a game in which Marquette's Katherine Plouffe, Michelle's twin sister, took top scoring honors.
There were reasons for optimism, including the play of freshman Emily Potter, whose production in regulation against BYU helped keep the game close. But Utah wasn't getting out of Provo with a win without a big game from its star. It needs her to do the improbable this season, like scoring 17 points after a game was already 38 minutes old.
Also nominated: Jewell Loyd, Notre Dame