UTAH UTES

Lynne Roberts Discusses Having To Adapt Through Tough Pac-12 Schedule

Feb 26, 2024, 4:20 PM | Updated: 4:23 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Nothing has come easy for the No. 18 Utah women’s basketball team in the 2023-24 season despite returning most of a team that got to the Sweet 16 last year.

However, the Utes are still sitting pretty after a big win in Los Angeles over No. 7 USC as the regular season begins to transition to postseason play.

Head coach Lynne Roberts joined Hans and Scotty G. on Monday, February 26 to discuss the ups and downs of Utah’s year, how tough the Pac-12 Conference is, and staying focused moving forward to tournament season.

 

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Same Faces, Different Team For Utah Women’s Basketball

The Utes returned the same core group of players from 2022-23 that were largely responsible for getting Utah women’s basketball back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006.

Despite that fact, this team is very different from the one before mainly due to being challenged and tested with injuries.

Star Gianna Kneepkens suffered a season ending injury at the beginning of December that really changed the complexion of the team. Issy Palmer has missed most of the season with a nagging medical issue, going in and out of the lineups. Dasia Young missed a four-game stretch with an injury that really tested Utah’s depth.

“We had everybody back from our top eight players from the Sweet 16 team,” Roberts said. “Then we lost our starting point guard and then Gianna Kneepkens- that was 34 points a game. We haven’t had the team that we had in terms of potential since November 14. It’s been a year of adjusting and adapting. We have not been at full strength all year and even now we’ve got kids coming in and out- that’s just part of it. You have to adapt and recruit depth so that when it happens, you don’t completely fall off the wagon.”

Culture Is The Glue That Holds Utah Women’s Basketball Together

The Utes have remained a tough, formidable team through it all and are currently in a battle for seeding in the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments. What has kept Utah women’s basketball together through the year with all the injuries and subsequent lineup chances according to Roberts is the culture.

The faces may have had to change a bit, but the culture and expectation has not.

“The team is very different, but the culture is the same,” Roberts said. “What these guys are made of is the same in terms of- we pride ourselves- and it’s not too different from football. Utah Athletics- that’s where your success, you can hang your hat on just kind of being that blue-collar, we’re going to out-tough you, out work you- you might have more five-star athletes than us, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win. That’s kind of what our culture is- we want to win more than we want to get ours and that is how we play.”

Utah Women’s Basketball Still Making History Despite Obstacles

Utah women’s basketball continues to prove attitude and mindset in the face of adversity is everything and can overcome a lot.

The Utes recently got their highest-ranked road win in program history over No. 7 USC on February 25. The victory over the Trojans also bumped Utah’s wins over Top 10 programs in the 2023-24 season up to four- something no other team in the country can boast.

 

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Interestingly enough, that win came on the heels of an embarrassing loss to No. 12 UCLA two nights before.

“Tons of people- a packed house and we go the win,” Roberts said. “That’s our fourth Top-10 win of the season which is awesome. I’m more proud of our team for all the adversity we’ve faced this year and just kind of our ability to keep getting back up and swinging. Now we are heading into March, and it starts to get really fun.”

The Insanity That Is Women’s Hoops In The Pac-12

Currently the Utes sit at 20-8 on the season and 10-6 in conference play with two more regular season games to play against Washington State and Washington. It’s a great place for Utah to be when considering the injuries they’ve had to navigate and the caliber of teams they face week in and week out in the Conference of Champions.

“Playing each other helps our strength of schedule, but it kind of hurts because we beat each other up in terms of wins and losses,” Roberts said. “Right now, I think there are eight teams in the Top 25 in terms of- not just NET- including NET, strength of schedule- there are five different things that the algorithm on the women’s side uses. There are eight teams in the Top 25 so it’s bananas and when it’s all said and done, we will have played 16 teams in the Top 25 in the season.”

Pac-12 Tournament Strategy

Two years ago, the Utah women surprised everyone (except for themselves) making it all the way to the Pac-12 Tournament final where they lost to Stanford. Last year, after sharing a piece of the regular season Pac-12 Title with Stanford, the Utes came up short out of the gate in the Tournament to Washington State.

Obviously, every year every team goes into Las Vegas with hopes of making it to the finals, but some years it’s more important than others.

“Last year going into the Pac-12 Tournament we were sitting as a one-seed and then we lost in that quarterfinal,” Roberts explained of last season. “We had beaten Stanford at home two days earlier and clinched the Pac-12- all the things and I think we were emotionally spent. None of us planned on that. I think if we’d won one of those games, we would have stayed a one-seed. Coulda, shoulda, woulda, but we didn’t so we were a two.”

 

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As Roberts went on to explain, while Utah is still very much in the NCAA Tournament for this season just like last year, they don’t have as advantageous of seeding at the moment but could improve it with a good Pac-12 Tournament performance.

“This year we are in a little different situation because we are teetering at a four or five seed and on the women’s side, the Top 16 teams- so one through four on each side of the four regional brackets gets to host the first two games of the Tournament. That’s a big deal, you want to be a four rather than a five and get to host and your chances of winning go up.”

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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