Women’s basketball falls to Utah in first-round loss


The No. 8-seeded women’s basketball season came to an abrupt end on Sunday afternoon, as the Wildcats fell to No. 9-seeded Utah, 60-30, in their first round matchup of the NCAA tournament. The Utes were led by a game-high 18 points from senior forward Katie King.

Utah also benefited from the outstanding play of junior forward Kalee Whipple, whose 15 points and eight rebounds were accompanied by her 36 minutes of stifling defense on Villanova’s Player of the Year candidate Laura Kurz. Kurz, whose senior leadership and scoring prowess led the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament berth since 2004, was held to 11 points on 5-for-19 shooting (0-7 from 3-point range).

Poor shooting was the story of the game for Villanova, as the Wildcats made only four of their 29 3-point attempts. Utah held Villanova to 19 percent shooting overall, while scoring an impressive 50 percent from the field themselves. The combination of the Utes’ efficiency and the Wildcats’ inability to score led to a rather one-sided matchup, during which Villanova was never able to obtain the lead. The contest began with a 10-0 run for Utah in the first four minutes of the game before sophomore center Heather Scanlon put the Wildcats on the board by draining a 3-pointer.

Once their original scoreless drought was over, Villanova was able to battle back, and a jumper by junior guard Tia Grant brought the Wildcats within two with 8:33 left to play in the first half. However, the Utes then went on a 10-2 run to finish the period, leaving Villanova at the short end of a 10-point deficit midway through the game.

The second half started out much like the first, as Utah put together an 11-1 run to build a 20-point lead with just under 15 minutes remaining. From then on, Villanova was unable to cut the lead to fewer than 14 points, and the Wildcats trailed by at least 20 for the last 11 minutes of the game. Balanced scoring from King, Whipple and senior point guard Morgan Warburton (14 points, six rebounds) kept the Utes in control, while Villanova’s shooters simply could not locate the basket. While their 29 3-point attempts were only marginally higher than the Utes’ season average of 25.6 attempts per game, the Wildcats’ four makes were a mere half of their average eight 3-pointers made per contest.

Kurz, whose 11-point performance against the Utes was nearly six points fewer than her season scoring average, was not the only Villanova scorer held well below her usual point production. The Wildcats’ next three highest scorers – junior guard Maria Getty, senior guard Siobhan O’Connor and senior forward Lisa Karcic – normally average about 23 points per game, but were held to only 12 by the Utah defense. The problem was not a lack of open looks – Villanova was able to put up 58 shots throughout the matchup, a significant increase over their season average of just under 50 shots per game. However, the Utes greatly out-rebounded the Wildcats, pulling down 42 boards, compared to Villanova’s 23. Furthermore, Utah only allowed Villanova six offensive rebounds off their plethora of missed field goals, all but eliminating opportunities for second chance points.

Another lopsided statistic that favored Utah was opportunities at the free throw line. While the Utes took 21 shots from the stripe, converting on 16 of them, the Wildcats were a mere 4-6.

Of course, the first round loss was a huge disappointment for the Wildcats, especially for Kurz and her fellow seniors. O’Connor, Karcic, forward Brianna Weiss and guard Erin Hardiman will graduate as part of the class of 2009. Without the production of his seniors, Head Coach Harry Perretta will have to look for new leaders next year – namely Getty, Grant and Scanlon, the only underclassmen on this year’s squad to average more than five points per game.

Ideally, their increase in playing time and production will be enough for Perretta to lead his Wildcats back to the tournament in 2010.