SALT LAKE CITY -- Sara James made the most of her opportunity to play extended minutes.
With starter Toni Kokenis held out as a precaution, James stepped up with a career-high 18 points Sunday to help No. 4 Stanford beat Utah 70-56.
"The highlight of this game was Sara James," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said of the 5-foot-10 reserve. "She's been working really hard in practice. It was her time."
James hit 6 of 8 shots off the bench, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. She also had four assists and two steals in 31 minutes. The junior came into the game averaging just 4.1 points in 10 minutes.
Each time the Utes would get close, James was there to answer. She did it after Utah pulled to 35-33, countering with a driving layup.
She did it again after Iwalani Rodrigues scored back-to-back baskets as Utah trimmed Stanford's lead to 47-41, draining a 3-pointer.
And after freshman Paige Crozon hit a 3-pointer with 6:38 left, James scored again to bump the Cardinal lead back to nine points with 6:23 left.
"I keep telling people Sara is the most competitive person I ever met at Stanford. And that's on the court and off the court," said Chiney Ogwumike, who led the Cardinal with 20 points. "I've just been hoping and praying for an opportunity for her to come out and really show people that and today she did. And I think it's here to stay."
Stanford (13-1, 2-0) is now 15-0 against the Utes (9-4, 0-2). The Cardinal extended to 80 its streak of consecutive conference wins.
Ogwumike entered the game having posted 10 straight double-doubles, but she managed just six rebounds against the Utes.
VanDerveer credited Utah for doing a great job of being fundamentally sound and boxing out.
"I am really proud of our effort this weekend, playing against two very good teams," Utes coach Anthony Levrets said of battles against No. 7 Cal and Stanford. "I don't think the score is indicative of what the battle was out there today. We can't have moral victories anymore, we have to start putting some wins together."
He also noted the conference schedule is a two-month ordeal.
"We have to keep our heads up while we go out and continue to get better," Levrets said.
Early on Utah held Ogwumike in check, forcing her to miss her first three shots.
At halftime she had just eight points and one rebound.
The preseason All-American was strong down the stretch. Her driving layup give Stanford some breathing room after Utah got within 56-50, and ignited a 6-0 Cardinal run, capped by James' fast-break layup.
Ogwumike also held Utah standout Michelle Plouffe to 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
"I tried to stay with her step on step and be active on the ball," Ogwumike said. "They run the motion offense and they move in it. It's hard to follow 24-7. But I tried not to give her easy baskets apart from the first one she got in the game."
Rodrigues led Utah with 21 points. Crozon added 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
Utah shot just 38.2 percent and committed 12 turnovers but held a 15-4 edge on second-chance points.
Stanford led 29-24 at halftime but it was a struggle to score against the Pac-12's second-ranked defense.
The Cardinal hit just 3 of 13 shots in the first 6½ minutes and 13 of 31 in the first half.
Utah had an even harder time scoring as layups spun out and 3-pointers wouldn't stay down.
The Utes were shooting 25 percent at one point and 31 percent (9 of 29) at halftime.
The Utes stayed close in the first thanks to an 11-0 edge in second-chance points and the bench play of Crozon. The 6-1 guard had already doubled her season average 12 minutes in with eight points of 3-of-5 shooting, including her second 3-pointer that pulled Utah to 16-14.
"This is how it's going to be on the road," said VanDerveer, whose team must play back-to-back games now against No. 7 Cal. "We need some people who we know are really strong offensive players to make some plays for us. Chiney every game comes out and gives us a great 35 minutes, scoring and rebounding. ... But we had a great game from Sara in a big game."
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