Lynne Roberts’ Vision For Lady Utes: ‘Do Things That Have Never Been Done’

Feb 1, 2019, 4:47 PM
Lynne Roberts - Utah Utes...
University of Utah Utah women's basketball coach Lynne Roberts during practice in the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)
(Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah women’s basketball head coach Lynne Roberts has made a major impact on the Utes in just four years in Salt Lake City. She credits a unique approach and focus on one specific goal.

This season alone, the Utes are off to their best start in program history with an 18-1 record, including a record of 7-1 in the Pac-12. Their only loss came at the hands of then-No. Arizona State, when Reili Richardson drilled a 20-foot bank shot with less than 2 seconds on the clock.

“We were 1.2 seconds away from being 19-0 but I do think that would be some extra hype and pressure that we don’t need,” she said. “I think the pressure of being undefeated would be a distraction. I hate that we lost that game, but I have put it away.”

Roberts has led Utah to an Associated Press Top 25 ranking for the first time in over a decade when they came in at No. 21. The Utes beat No. 6 Stanford for the first time in program history, which moved their ranking to No. 14.

“I want to win a Pac-12 Championship for the first time in Utah Women’s Basketball history.”

Her first head coaching job was at Chico State, a Division II team. She spent four seasons with the Wildcats, posting an 86-31 record. They finished first place in their conference three out of the four years and won their first conference championship in school history during the 2005-06 campaign.

She then joined the Pacific Tigers in the Big West and the West Coast Conference, where she was at the helm for nine seasons. They won their first conference title in school history during the program’s last year in the Big West Conference when they went 27-8, which was the most wins in a single season for the Tigers.

In her head coaching journey, Roberts has had one goal.

“Every program that I have taken over, we have won a conference championship for the first time in program history, so that is my goal here,” she said.

On Her Move To Utah

Roberts was hired by Utah on April 20, 2015. Since then, the Utes are 70-45 overall and 28-33 in conference play in those four seasons. She came to the University of Utah with a vision of how she wanted to run the program.

“What made me take this job was that I saw the potential. I knew Elaine’s (Elliott) success, but I knew that Salt Lake City was a sports town,” she said. “We averaged around 600 fans the year before I got here.”

Among her top goals: increase the attendance at the Huntsman Center and make it a tough place to play.

“You go to a gymnastics meet, a Jazz game, a men’s basketball game, a volleyball game or a Real Salt Lake game, you realize that there is potential here,” Roberts said.

She saw the community at Utah as a place that can get behind women’s basketball.

“People like sports but they like winning. They like a fun brand of basketball,” she said. “(Salt Lake) it is an incredible community that can get behind us.”

Utah is now averaging 4,000 fans per game this season, and had over 3,000 against Stanford, despite a noon tipoff on Sunday.

Roberts Has Unique Goals

The Utah head coach has instilled in her players a unique mindset. The goal that the team has set for the season wasn’t to be ranked or to beat Stanford or win a certain amount of games. It’s much more than that.

“Let’s do things that have never been done. Let’s achieve things that we have never achieved,” she said.

The Utes are one win away from tying the most conference wins in a season since joining the Pac-12 in 2011 with eight victories. Roberts wasn’t aware of that stat. It wasn’t a mark that she planned to write on the locker room white board.

Utah Utes head coach Lynne Roberts coaches against Weber State Wildcats during a basketball game at Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. (Qiling Wang, Deseret News)

“That’s great. Honestly, when we came into the season, our goals were to do things that have never been done for Utah Women’s Basketball in the Pac-12,” said Roberts.

Roberts had a friend who gave her great advice about how approach the turnaround with the Utah program.

“It’s like turning around a battleship in the middle of the ocean. You can’t easily turn left. It takes hard work and a lot of people,” she said. “I feel like we are now turned around, so we can start getting momentum in the right direction.”

Bringing In The Right Players

Recruiting can be a challenge in college sports. Finding the right players that are talented and will take the program to the next level is a tall task, but Coach Roberts has seemed to crack the code.

The Utes are playing four freshmen this season, and all four are having a major impact on the program during this historic run.

Dre’Una Edwards leads the first year players with 11.9 points per game, to go with her 7.3 rebounds. Fellow freshmen Dru Gylten, Andrea Torres and Niyah Becker have all played important minutes for Utah and have been a critical part to their success.

Edwards and Gylten have started every game this season, with Torres and Becker providing a spark off the bench.

“We have the right freshmen here. My assistants have done an incredible job recruiting the right players,” she said. “We are very particular in who we recruit and how we recruit. Not all of the talent fits the program, city or culture.”

Roberts said she has had to find the right mixture of players, and those who can get behind one common goal.

“What we are signing (are) kids that are talented, that could go to other Pac-12 schools, but they want to be the reason that we do something special,” Roberts said.

When recruiting Edwards, Gylten, Torres and Becker, Roberts brought each into her office, explained her vision, and described how each could have a major contribution.

“I told them, ‘If you come here, we will have several Pac-12 Championship banners hanging over the next 20 years… I want you to walk in here with your family in 20 years and point at the first one and be a part of that,’” she said.

Roberts said she wants to build on the Utes’ previous success.

“This program has done incredible things when Elaine (Elliott) was here,” she said. “That’s what I sell when we are recruiting, saying, ‘Look what we did when we were in the Mountain West (Conference), and we can do it here.’”

Elaine Elliott is the winningest coach in Utah Women’s Basketball history with a 582-234 record during her 27-year tenure with the Utes. She led the program to 15 NCAA Tournament appearances.

Roberts told KSL Sports she wants to bring the Utes to their first NCAA Tournament since 2011.

Success Brings Even More Talent To Utah

Roberts has signed two top recruits who she expects will play a major role for her team next season.

Utah picked up five-star recruit Kemery Martin from Corner Canyon High School. Martin averaged 20.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists during her junior season, and has already scored over 1,000 points in her high school career.

Martin has been ranked No. 35 in the country by ProspectsNation.com. Just Thursday night, she set her high school record against Brighton with 47 points, including 9 three-pointers.

“After we beat Stanford, Kemery texted me and said, ‘That’s why I am coming here (to Utah), because I want to be a part of doing great things like that for the first time,”’ Roberts said.

Roberts has also signed Brynna Maxwell from Gig Harbor, Washington. The four-star recruit was ranked No. 78 by ProspectsNation.com.

Maxwell averaged 21 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals per game last season, leading her high school to a state championship. She was named the 2018 3A Washington State Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

“We want to find kids that don’t just want to go to the sexy name schools like UConn,” she said.

Ranked For First Time In 11 Years

The last time Utah was ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll was during the 2007-08 season, when the Utes went 27-5 and 16-0 in Mountain West Conference play. The highest ranking the Utes have received in school history is No. 11 back in 1998. This season, Utah has climbed up to No. 14.

It wasn’t one of the goals for Roberts this season, but she is proud of the accomplishment.

“It means something. It’s pretty cool, and I am proud of that,” Roberts said. “It means that we are a competitive team and can hang, but it doesn’t change anything. We haven’t done anything in the NCAA Tournament or the Pac-12 Tournament.”

Utah Utes head coach Lynne Roberts coaches against Weber State Wildcats during a basketball game at Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. (Qiling Wang, Deseret News)

The Utes have a tough schedule in one of, if not the best conference in women’s college basketball. The Pac-12 has four other teams ranked in the Top 25, including Arizona State (21), Oregon State (9), Stanford (8) and Oregon (4).

“We are still climbing the mountain in the Pac-12. We are still the underdog. The rankings mean that our hard work is paying off,” she said.

Rebuilding Process

Roberts had to start the rebuild for Utah from the ground up when she arrived in Salt Lake City. Before she was hired, the Utes had a 59-71 overall record, including a 23-49 mark in the Pac-12. They reached the WNIT twice, reaching the championship game in 2012-13.

Utah won just nine games in 2014-15, the season before Roberts was hired. After her first season at the helm, they doubled their number of wins.

The Utes have won at least 16 games every season under Roberts.

University of Utah Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts during practice in the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

“You have to get the right people here whether its coaches or players and we are doing that,” Roberts said.

If she was told four years ago that the Utes would accomplish everything that they have this season, four years later, Roberts said she would be pleased.

“I came in with a plan with every year mapped out. Last year, we underachieved my plan. This year, we are maybe overachieving a little at this stage. I think we are on pace of where we want to be in terms of recruiting, attendance, atmosphere and exposure,” she said,

Beating Stanford

One of the biggest wins in Utah women’s basketball history was when they took down No. 6 Stanford 75-68 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on January 27. Since 1999-00, Utah has lost 18 games against the Cardinal.

When the Utes had beaten Stanford and Roberts finally had a moment to reflect on what happened, she was in awe.

“Did that just happen? It was really cool,” Roberts said. “I have so much respect for Tara (VanDerveer), so it was this humbling moment. Since I was a kid, I knew who she was and idolized her.”

VanDerveer has been the head coach of Stanford women’s basketball for 33 seasons, winning 2 national championships, 12 Final Four appearances, 25 Pac-12 Championships including 7 straight, and 10 of 11 from 2002-13. She has won over 1,000 games in her coaching career, and 901 games with Stanford.

When the two coaches shook hands after the game, Roberts was complimentary of the way VanDerveer handled the loss.

“She was so gracious. She texted me after the game too. She is the greatest. She is a competitor that will rip your head off, but she gets it,” Roberts said. “Tara (VanDerveer) was really happy for me. That’s as classy as it gets.”

Moving Forward

With 10 games left on their regular season schedule, Roberts said she isn’t ready to celebrate anything yet.

“None of these are must-win games. As long as we continue to get better and stay healthy,” she said.

It is obvious that Roberts is a rising star in the coaching profession in women’s basketball, but the Redding, California native is happy to be with the Utes.

“I love it here (in Utah),” she said. “As long as we are supported, I can’t think of a better place.”

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Lynne Roberts’ Vision For Lady Utes: ‘Do Things That Have Never Been Done’