ST. GEORGE — The women’s basketball team at Utah Tech earned what is known as a “statement win” Tuesday afternoon in Burns Arena with a 92-86 triumph over PAC-12 power University of Oregon.

Utah Tech’s Maggie McCord looks to pass against Oregon in a nonconference basketball game, St. George, Utah, Dec. 19, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

“I would have to imagine this is the biggest win in the program’s history,” Utah Tech associate head coach Matt Thune told St. George News after the win.

“We’ve coached at the mid-major level for a long time,” Thune added. “A lot of times you go into these games with hope, but they’re tough. To be able to pull one out, there’s not many teams who do it each year. It’s a very special thing.”

The win was especially meaningful to the Trailblazers’ duo of fifth-year seniors Breaunna Gillen and Maggie McCord.

The teammates, who have played basketball together since before their high school careers, were in on the ground floor as Utah Tech completed the transition to a full-fledged Division I member of the Western Athletic Conference.

McCord noted that it was pretty special to beat a PAC-12 titan knowing where the Utah Tech program has been.

“You always have that hope. I knew going into this year that we were going to have a really special team,” McCord said after scoring a team-high 24 points against the Ducks (8-4).

“I still think that and I’ll think that until the day I die, no matter what the outcome of the season is,” she added.

Utah Tech came out on a mission and sank 12-of-15 3-pointers in the first half alone, grabbing a 55-38 lead over the Ducks at the intermission.

McCord and sophomore Maddie Warren both shot 4-for-4 from long distance in that stretch.

“That’s just our style of play,” McCord said. “Some games we’ll have a lower percentage, some games we have a higher percentage. That’s just the excitement of being able to play the style we play.”

Utah Tech’s Breaunna Gillen dribbles against Oregon in a nonconference basketball game, St. George, Utah, Dec. 19, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

WAC preseason Player of the Year Gillen finished with 17 points in the win along with 10 assists for a double-double.

“I’m grateful that I’ve had this opportunity to play with her for my whole life,” McCord said. “She’s made me the player I am.”

Warren finished with 21 points for the winners including six 3-pointers. For the game, Utah Tech shot a scorching 21-for-31 from long distance.

Thule said that was a result of the matchups. Oregon’s twin towers Phillipina Kyei (6-foot-8) and Grace VanSlooten (6-foot-3) patrolled the paint, so Utah Tech had to counter with their speedy, hot-shooting guards.

“I think everybody knows part of our offensive system, with the five out, creates those looks,” Thune said. “We knew that they were going to have a hard time guarding us on the perimeter. So we knew those looks would be available on top of that.”

Utah Tech had its biggest lead of 18 early in the third quarter, but the Ducks did not go away.

VanSlooten finished with a game-high 25 and Chance Gray hit six 3-pointers and scored 20 for Oregon, but down the stretch, Utah Tech got a huge performance from freshman post Nicole Willardson to keep the Ducks underwater.

In four straight Utah Tech possessions late in the fourth quarter, Willardson canned two 3’s, hit a bucket inside and made a huge block on the defensive end.

“We expect her to play well enough to this level,” Thune said about Willardson, in her first year in St. George after a standout prep career at Richfield High School.

“She’d been struggling the past few games,” Thune added. “So to come out and do it versus Oregon and do it in the fourth quarter, I don’t know a better way for her to gain some confidence and continue that groove through the end of the year.” 

Willardson finished with 12 points and four rebounds for the winners. Freshman Calyn Dallas was Utah Tech’s fifth double-digit scorer with 14 points.

Utah Tech is 6-4 after the win and will look to repeat history Wednesday when the Trailblazers host Big 12 contender Oklahoma State, tipping off in a 2 p.m. matinee matchup in Burns Arena.

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