LAS VEGAS — Kansas City’s full-court trapping defense was a nuisance to the Utah Valley women’s basketball team most of the afternoon in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round of the Western Athletic Conference.
At the start of the fourth quarter, it became a full-blown migraine headache.
A rash of turnovers broke open a one-point game and led to a super-charged 12-0 run for the Kangaroos, who eventually held on for a 78-75 victory at Orleans Arena.
“I think they turned up the heat a little bit and we revealed a little bit of our inexperience, trying to throw the ball over the top and that’s not good thing to do,” UVU coach Cathy Nixon said. “We were down 13 at one point, but we rallied back. We were right there. I knew they could go another 20 minutes if they needed to.
“My mom is the eternal optimist. She always says you didn’t lose, you just didn’t have enough time to win. I think the game tonight might have been that kind of game.”
Despite that 13-point lead — and an 11-point advantage late in the first quarter — Kansas City still had to scramble to stay ahead of the Wolverines, who took the lead in the third quarter then cut the late deficit to three and had the ball with under two minutes to play. Kansas City’s Ericka Mattingly, who led all scorers with 27 points, drained a long 3-pointer with 32.8 seconds to play for a 75-69 lead that finally allowed her team to close out the game.
“With the magnitude of this stage, I’m so proud of the way we stepped up and fought through adversity,” Kansas City coach Jacie Hoyt said. “Utah Valley is a great team. They had a really good game plan and executed it well. But at the end of day we challenged our best players and they did a great job stepping up to the challenge and it paid off.”
Kansas City (16-14) moves on to the semifinals on Friday against regular-season champion New Mexico State (24-6), which dispatched No. 8 seed Chicago State 90-54 earlier on Wednesday.
Junior Alexis Cortez led UVU with 22 points on 9 of 11 from the field and all-WAC selection Jordan Holland scored 16 points, 13 in the second half. Point guard Maria Carvalho added 12 points and seven assists and Eve Brasilis also scored in double figures with 10.
Kansas City started fast with a flurry of 3-pointers, making 5 of 11 from beyond the arc in the first quarter for a 21-10 advantage. Utah Valley closed to within four, 34-30, on a short Carvalho jumper and trailed by six, 36-30, at halftime.
The Wolverines made 8 of their first 11 shots in the third quarter, surging into the lead at 42-40 with 5:43 to play on a basket by freshman Josie Williams. Kansas City regained the lead but UVU took it back on a Holland 3-pointer at 49-48.
The Wolverines trailed 53-52 early in the fourth quarter when the Kangaroos press caused three straight turnovers, leading to a 12-0 run and a 65-52 advantage. UVU got back to within three on two occasions but Mattingly’s clutch 3-pointer sealed it for the Kangaroos.
The Wolverines finished the season with a 14-16 record but will return its entire roster next year.
“These speeches are never good,” a tearful Nixon said in the post-game news conference. “They’re never pretty because it’s really a hard time for us as a team. I literally could not be more proud of my team even if we had won. These guys overcame a lot this year.
“At the WAC media day I was taking about being picked eighth and that was a fair evaluation of our team because they didn’t know our team. I think we proved some people wrong (finishing fifth) and we made some noise. We’re not going away because we don’t have any seniors and we’ll just use this day to fuel us for next year.”
Cortez added, “This means a lot. I know that we’ll all remember this feeling. Next year we’re going to do exactly what we did today, which is come out and fight again. I have no doubt we can something really special.”