LAS VEGAS — Her shooting elbow wrapped in ice and her eyes noticeably red, Washington senior Amber Melgoza reflected Thursday on a career that is one of the best in school history.
“I gave it my all,” said Melgoza, who had her third 30-point game in the last six weeks in a 72-63 loss to Utah in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament at the Mandalay Bay Resort Arena. “Like Jody (coach Wynn) always says, leave your DNA on the floor. I definitely did that today.”
Melgoza did what she could to keep the season from coming to an early end, but Utah used a 14-0 run to rally from a six-point halftime deficit and advance to a quarterfinal game against top-seeded (and No. 3 in the nation) Oregon.
Melgoza had 19 of her 30 points in the first half as the Huskies (13-17) built an early lead. Her four free throws in the final 52 seconds of the first half gave UW a 36-30 halftime edge.
With the first of those foul shots, Melgoza reached 500 points this season, becoming the third Washington player to score at least 500 points in three different seasons.
“She’s competitive as any competitor I’ve ever been around,”said Wynn, who paused several times while addressing the media to gather herself.
“She’s time and time again not afraid to put her team on her back, not afraid of the challenge, not afraid of failure. She’s one of those kids that’s just going to find a way to get it done and never stop trying.
“Watching Amber play, you just don’t ever want that 40 minutes to ever end. It is like you could just sit and watch her drive and watch her competitive juices flow all day long.”
The Utes avenged a first-round tournament upset loss to the Huskies last season and won both games of the series this season.
Melgoza, who has averaged 22.3 points in her last 10 games, scored nine of the Huskies’ 15 points in a 15-4 run to open the second quarter. Her three-pointer midway through the quarter gave the Huskies a 32-25 advantage, their largest, before the Utes switched their defense to concentrate even more on Melgaza.
“We knew if we wanted to win the game, we had to shut her down,” Utah’s Dru Gylten said. “She still scored 11 (in the second half), that’s how good of a player she is.”
Utah regrouped behind Gig Harbor freshman Brynna Maxwell, who reprised her role as spoiler with another big game against the Huskies.
Maxwell had 17 points and made all five of her three-point attempts. She had 16 points in the Utes’ 74-65 victory in Seattle on Feb. 7.
“It is definitely different from other games because I have grown up watching UW,” Maxwell said. “It is my home town, home state. It’s definitely a different vibe for me.
“This game was just different because it’s a bigger stage. It is the Pac-12 tournament, everybody wants to win. It is definitely different, but it is really fun. I’m just proud of our team and how we executed.”
Alexis Griggsby had 11 points for the Huskies, who shot 36.7% from the field and were outrebounded 37-28.
T.T. Watkins suffered an apparent injury with 40.5 seconds remaining, when she was knocked to the floor on the scramble underneath the Utah basket. She was helped off the floor by the training staff.
Utah took a 70-62 lead when Lola Pendande made two free throws with 4:42 remaining, and neither team made another field goal. Washington missed its last eight field goal attempts.
The Utes made 8 of 21 three-pointers to extend their school season record to 248.
Melgoza credited her teammates and coaches for her success, saying “I couldn’t have done it without the players next to me, the coaching staff.
“Looking back at all the games that we have had since my freshman year, it kind of stings when you go in the locker room and you realize, dang, I’m not going to put these shoes back on this year with this team.
“I’m not going to have another film session, not going to have another plane ride with them, not going to have another, you know, hotel, whatever. It’s just so many different things that you kind of look back now and just realize that was the last.”