How Utah Women’s Basketball Transformed Offense In One Off-Season

Mar 17, 2022, 3:35 PM
Dru Gylten - Utah NCAA Tournament Practice...
(Photo courtesy of Nick Grace, Utah Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Nick Grace, Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY – After winning just five games last season, the Utah women’s basketball program changed their offense and now they are in the NCAA Tournament.

The transformation for Utah women’s basketball has led to an exciting brand of basketball to watch that includes a lot of three-pointers and points on the scoreboard.

As Utah finished in the top half of a very competitive Pac-12 Conference, they are now set to play in their first NCAA Tournament game since 2011. So what led to the changes?

Head coach Lynne Roberts spoke to the media on Thursday morning before the team practiced in Austin, Texas.

Why Utah Women’s Basketball Changed Offensive Philosophy During Off-Season

Roberts talked about her taking a look in the mirror after such a disappointing season last year.

“There’s a lot of variables,” Roberts said. “I don’t want to talk about last year, but it forced me to look in the mirror, and what are we doing right and what aren’t we doing well. I reached out to coaches in our league that I know care about me and I very much trust, I told them ‘I want the honest truth. What do you see, what aren’t we doing well?’ And they gave it to me, which is great. I appreciated it and still value it.”

Roberts then started digging into the analytics of her team and the other 11 teams in the conference.

“Once I kind of figured that out and started peeling back the layers of where we need to get better, I’m a nerd, I did a deep analytical dive into all of the other Pac-12 teams, what did they do well, not as well. From there, separate some key analytics as to what separates the great teams that are consistently great, what are they doing independent of styles of play, personnel, whatever, and identify three or four things analytically that the great things consistently do, again, independent of how they do it, in terms of style of play and everything.”

Roberts then discussed her decision to hire a person involved with analytics.

“I was able to hire an analytics person who has been instrumental in identifying how pulling it back to we know this, now the question is how. We have changed
everything in terms of — the players, as an example, the players don’t get a regular stat sheet after games,” stated Roberts. “We don’t meet after games. They don’t look at them. We have created our own. We call it a smart box. It’s a way to evaluate and quantify the things that matter and the things I’ve identified as winning basketball. So they get those instead. For example, instead of assists, it charts good passes. Instead of assist hunting, we are charting if you made a good pass. It’s not like 50 a game, but a pass that is the right pass but doesn’t get you the assist, might get the assist in two more passes, stuff like that.”

That smart box also charts a lot of different things that typical teams don’t pay as much attention to.

“50/50 balls we chart,” Roberts said. “If you have a chance to come up with a loose ball or big a rebound, we chart that rather than overall rebounds. So things like that and shot selection has been the key. Where are the most effective field-goal percentage, where are we getting most points per shot attempt, points per possession. We are charting all of that and the players in their sleep could tell you what a good shot, a bad shot, all that kind of stuff. So a lot has changed, I could tell you a lot as a nerd but I’ll leave it there.”

Utah Women’s Basketball’s Offensive Numbers Compared From Last Season To This Season

It was a tough 2020-21 season for Utah women’s basketball. They finished the season with a 5-16 overall record and 4-15 in Pac-12 play. They lost to Washington State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament and had three games canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the program.

As a team, Utah averaged 60.2 points per game and allowed 70.9 per contest. They shot 37% from the field, 30% from the three-point line and 69% at the free throw line. The Utes turned the ball over an average of 17.3 times per game and just 11 assists per contest.

Fast forward to this season, Utah bumped their points per game average to 76 and allowed 67.9 points. They shot 43% from the floor, 35% from beyond the arc and 78% from the foul line.

Their turnovers per game was trimmed to 14.8 per game and assists went up to 15.3. They lead the Pac-12 in points per game, three-pointers made, attempted, assists, free throws made and attempted. Utah ranks in the top 10 in the country in threes made, attempted and threes made per game.

Utah and Arkansas will battle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 18 in Austin, Texas at 3:30 p.m. MT on ESPNews.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASports.

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How Utah Women’s Basketball Transformed Offense In One Off-Season