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She's a study in perseverance

After adjusting to the demands of college life, Iwalani Rodrigues has become the leading scorer for Utah's basketball team

By Billy Hull

LAST UPDATED: 2:12 a.m. HST, Jan 26, 2011

Iwalani Rodrigues was greeted by something other than basketball at Utah.

"My day would start at 7 a.m. and go until 9 o'clock at night," she said. "Just school and meetings all day. It was really tough."

College life was a shock to the 2008 Kalani grad, who, instead of stepping in and playing right away, redshirted her first year.

PROFILE | Iwalani Rodrigues

» School: Utah

» Position: Guard

» Height: 5 feet 9

» High school: Kalani (2008)

» Highlights: Won three OIA Red titles (two at Roosevelt, one at Kalani);two-time OIA Red East player of the year; rankedNo. 6 in 2006 and No. 3 in the '07 and '08 Star-Bulletin Fab 15; leadsUtah in scoring as a sophomore with 14.3 ppg; leads the MWC and is 15th nationally in 3-point shooting at 43.8 percent (53-for-121).

Instead of practicing every day and traveling with the team, Rodrigues would occasionally watch practice and work out with a trainer. Otherwise, it was nothing but classrooms and study sessions.

"It was really tough academically," Rodrigues said. "At times, I would feel like I wasn't part of the team and my brain was pretty much dead with basketball."

It took sessions during open gym time for the Star-Bulletin's No. 3-ranked player out of Hawaii in '08 to remember why she'd been playing basketball since she was 5.

The year away from the game eventually became enough for Rodrigues to realize what was ahead.

"I knew I had to show (Utah) what I can do," she said.

It didn't happen right away. Last year, as a redshirt freshman, she played in 34 games, but only started three, averaging 3.5 points per game.

When she'd get into the game, she admitted that she "didn't know any of the plays" and "tried not to make a mistake every time she went in."

It wasn't until the Mountain West Conference tournament when she got the brilliant idea to treat basketball the same way she did in high school.

"It was the semifinals against TCU and I felt like I might as well stop being afraid of making mistakes," she said. "I just went out and played and scored my career high that year in that game."

It's been all uphill since for Rodrigues, who as a sophomore this year leads the Utes in scoring at 14.3 ppg. She posted a career-high 31 points against Westminster in December and fell one short of the NCAA record for consecutive 3-pointers made, going 7-for-7 against Westminster and hitting her first six in the next game against Idaho State.

She's scored at least 20 points five times this season and led the team in points 10 times, including eight of the past 13 games.

"I've improved a lot, but I'm constantly still working on my game," she said. "I need to get more aggressive. I still (shy away) from contact a little bit and need to try to add some more weight."

Utah is 10-10 overall and 3-3 in conference after losing to TCU 56-46 on Saturday. The Utes have a full week off before playing at Colorado State on Saturday, one of two more games before they reach the halfway point in league play.

"We have a really young team -- only one junior and two seniors," Rodrigues said. "It's just hard because we're not always mentally prepared and we're still kind of learning.

"But I think we're going to do better the second half of the season because we play well when we play as a team. We compete, and that's what I like about this team because we hate to lose."

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