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Utah completed a perfect non-conference schedule and won the Rebel Division of the 2018 Duel in the Desert in the process.
With a pair of lopsided wins against Florida and Hawaii, the Utes moved to 11-0 on the season, a little more than a week out from their Pac-12 Conference opener against Colorado. Utah got 21 points from Rebel Division Most Valuable Player Megan Huff in the 74-58, Duel-opening win over Florida, and 20 points from All-Tournament honoree Daneesha Provo in a 73-48 rout of Hawaii.
The complexion of each Utah win differed. The Utes started slow in the finale vs. Hawaii, leading by just four at halftime. But a 32-11 third quarter blew the game open, fueled in part by Huff’s 15-point, 10-rebound performance.
Against Florida, the Utes built a double-digit-point lead at halftime and used a fourth-quarter surge to weather a third-quarter Gators comeback effort that trimmed the deficit to seven points. Zada Williams scored 14 points in the loss.
“It is frustrating but it is something you have to fight through and get better at,” Florida coach Cam Newbauer said following the loss, per FloridaGators.com.
Fourth-quarter adjustments will indeed be a point of emphasis for the Gators leaving Las Vegas and heading into SEC play. They finished the Duel 0-2, dropping a 56-53 nail-biter to host UNLV.
The Lady Rebels kept the Gators at arm’s length throughout the fourth quarter, never surrendering their narrow lead. Nikki Wheatley scored 18 points and Jordyn Bell added 10 to power UNLV’s first win since Nov. 24.
The hosts nearly broke through in the Duel’s opening round, erasing an 18-point halftime deficit against Hawaii to force overtime. The Lady Rebels held Hawaii to 10 and six points in the third and fourth quarters, but were outscored in the extra frame, 11-6. Wheatley had a double-double with 19 points and 13 points. Hawaii’s Makenna Woodfolk matched Wheatley with 19 points.
“Our team is resilient, they are going to work hard and stay together,” UNLV coach Kathy Olivier said after the loss, per UNLVRebels.com. She added a point that proved somewhat prophetic against Florida. “We hope they will put up a big fight again on Friday.”
For a program looking to build, every win can mark a significant milestone. A tournament like the Duel in the Desert provides multiple opportunities on which to capitalize. And in the Duel’s other bracket, the Desert, Kansas made the most of its opportunities.
The Desert Division champion Jayhawks beat Washington State, 71-63, and Northwestern, 66-57. Kansas moved to 9-1 on the season, and like Rebel Division champion Utah, now heads into a tough conference schedule with plenty of momentum.
Kansas’ tournament championship is also a manifestation in a bigger picture story for the program.
“There's a process to building a program,” Jayhawks coach Brandon Schneider said following the Northwestern win, via KUAthletics.com. “We've tried to build it the right way, really tried to focus on chemistry and culture.”
The driving catalyst behind Kansas’ chemistry while in Las Vegas was Desert Division MVP Jessica Washington. She scored 22 points with six rebounds and three assists against Northwestern, and 15 points with three rebounds and three assists vs. Washington State.
Teammate and fellow All-Tournament honoree Kylee Kopatich went for 19 points and seven rebounds vs. Northwestern, and 13 points with eight rebounds vs. Washington State.
Washington State’s Chanelle Molina scored 19 points in the loss, the first of two 19-point performances from the Cougars’ All-Tournament honoree. Molina was one of three Cougars combining for 73 of Washington State’s 85 points in the team’s second-night rout of Wichita State.
Borislava Hristova, who came into the Duel in the Desert averaging more than 20 points per game, exceeded her average over the tournament’s two games. She hit for 18 against Kansas and 27 vs. Wichita State. Washington State also saw a breakout from Alexys Swedlund, who matched Hristova’s 27 points in the 85-59 romp against Wichita State.
Northwestern handled Wichita State in the Desert Division opener, 65-43, on the strength of a 20-0 run to open the game. All-Tournament selection Lindsay Pulliam scored 10 points with three assists in the balanced, team effort. Pulliam scored 14 points to back up Jordan Hamilton’s 17 in the loss to Kansas.
W vs. Washington State, 71-63
W vs. Northwestern, 66-57
W vs. Wichita State, 65-43
L vs. Kansas, 66-57
L vs. Kansas, 71-63
W vs. Wichita State, 85-59
L vs. Northwestern, 65-43
L vs. Washington State, 85-59
W vs. Florida, 74-58
W vs. Hawaii, 73-48
W vs. UNLV, 66-61 (OT)
L vs. Utah, 73-48
L vs. Hawaii, 66-61 (OT)
W vs. Florida, 56-53
L vs. Utah, 74-58
L vs. UNLV, 56-53