Utah Women’s Basketball Getting Hang Of New Identity After Two Key Injuries

Jan 19, 2024, 2:43 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah women’s basketball has undergone an identity metamorphosis after two top players have been taken out of the mix with injuries.

Issy Palmer has been out for the Utes since playing Baylor back on November 14. The good news is Palmer is beginning to work her way back into the lineup. The bad news is that her return while getting close- has been up in the air.

What made matters worse for the Utah women, however, was losing their second-best shooter in Gianna Kneepkens for the season against BYU on December 2.

While A Slow Process, The Utah Women Are Stepping Up

Those personnel losses have put a bit strain on the likes of Dasia Young, Kennady McQueen, and Maty Wilke among others to step up their games and provide supplemental help for Alissa Pili.

The process hasn’t been easy, or even perhaps as quick as anyone would have liked, but over the past three games (Arizona, Stanford, Cal) there seems to have been a “light bulb” moment where the flow is beginning to return and the team is playing like, well, a team again.

Obviously, there is no fully replacing the capabilities of players like Kneepkens or Palmer, but there is such a thing as understanding what your identity has to be moving forward, and what roles will be like in that new identity.

“I think we are starting to click better,” head coach Lynne Roberts said after the win over Cal. “I have shared that none of us wanted to admit losing Issy for a while and then losing G for the season- you don’t want to make a big deal out of it, but it was a big deal. It does take time to adjust to new roles and I think what you’re seeing is Dasia Young settling into that starting three-spot. Lani White, Maty- like everybody is just kind of settling into what that now means for them and unfortunately- usually you do that ‘who is your new team?’ in the off-season. In the fall and we had to do it in December.”

Dasia Young, Kennady McQueen, & Maty Wilke Discuss The Adjustment Process

The good news for Utah women’s basketball is that they seem to be peaking again at the right time. They are set to host the No. 6 USC Trojans on January 19 and the No. 5 UCLA Bruins on January 22.

For Dasia Young the biggest part of the process has been adjusting from being a starting scorer at her old school, to a bench threat at Utah, and now having to find that old starting scorer mentality again.

“At my previous school I was a scoring threat and so I’m just really converting back to that type of mindset,” Young said. “It’s kind of challenging, but I know I can do it. I did it before. My team trusts me, and we’re going to try and fill those big shoes that G left.”

Kennady McQueen said the biggest adjustment for her has been understanding that she will now be taking on the better defenders that once targeted Kneepkens and that she may have to work a bit more to get her open shots.

“I think everyone knew how good of a shooter and player G is,” McQueen said. “When you take a scorer off the floor it makes defenses think they don’t have to guard everybody the way they were. Now instead of G having the best defender, I get the privilege of having the best defender.”

Maty Wilke’s adjustment may have been the most extreme of all from the pure standpoint she’s younger and in the process figuring out where she fits in a new team anyway after transferring from Wisconsin.

Wilke says her biggest drive is letting Kneepkens know the team has her back by playing well in her absence.

“I never want a teammate to go down like that- especially being injured for so long,” Wilke said. “I know how much just injuries suck, but just sitting out on the sideline is a lot harder than people think it is, so I really feel for her. It makes me even more motivated to provide for the team, but also to show her I respect her game so much that I want to play for her. It’s easier to be on the sidelines seeing your teammates play hard. I think just trying to fill in for her shoes- I mean, I’m still working on just being a scorer, being aggressive, getting stops on defense and just the scrappy plays. I think right now we are just working on that scorer-mentality.”

The trio in the past three games have combined for 33 points twice against Cal and Arizona, and 20 points against Stanford in effort to supplement what Pili does on any given night. (Kneepkens was averaging a little over 17 points before her season-ending injury.)

This also doesn’t take into account the emergence of Ines Vieira and Jenna Johnson settling into bigger roles either.

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Utah Women’s Basketball Getting Hang Of New Identity After Two Key Injuries