Adversity Has Prepared Utah Women’s Basketball For Rigors Of NCAA Tournament

Mar 18, 2024, 2:44 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah women’s basketball will be making their third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament and 20th appearance in program history this March.

The Utes drew a five seed in the Regional 4 Portland Bracket and will soon be heading to Spokane, Washington to start their March Madness journey against South Dakota State.

As most rabid college basketball fans know, anything can happen in March. That’s why head coach Lynne Roberts and the Utes feel rather confident heading into tournament play. They have already experienced a lot of adversity with injuries and tough schedule that they believe have them prepared for the Big Dance.


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The Utah Utes Go Into NCAA Tournament Battle-Tested

The path to the NCAA Tournament perhaps wasn’t as smooth as last year for the Utes, but they still got there.

Loosing Gianna Kneepkens for the entire season and Issy Palmer for most of the season were huge blows the team had sort through early on. Going through a small stretch without Dasia Young wasn’t helpful either.

Add in the food-poisoning game against Arizona in Tucson, and a flu game against Oregon State in Corvallis and it’s been quite the year for the Utah women.

Still, Utah worked through it. They developed their young talent and they’ve had some remarkable veteran performances to help ease the load along the way.


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Additionally, despite not operating at full strength, Utah was still able to beat four top 10 teams this season- something no other team in the country has done. They also took No. 1 South Carolina to the wire with senior Alissa Pili putting up 37 points alone on the Gamecocks- one more stat that no other team or player can boast.

“I’m so proud of you for the year you had,” Roberts said to her team shortly after finding out their tournament destination. “I know you guys know some of the adversity we’ve faced, but there is so much more that didn’t get into the news. You guys have fought so hard for each other and for your program and for this university and I could not be more proud.”

Utah WBB Is Tough Like Utah Football

After a hard-fought loss in the Pac-12 Tournament against UCLA, Roberts noted her team’s toughness and resiliency while comparing it to the culture Kyle Whittingham has instilled in Utah football.

“I think that is part of our culture,” Roberts said. “We don’t ever get the benefit of the doubt whether it’s in rankings or 50/50 calls or- we never get the benefit of the doubt, so, we have to have a little edge. That’s part of who we are. Our football team is the same way. We’re going to out-tough you. Things are never given to us, so we earn it and I think we recruit players who buy into that. I think because of that, we’ve been able to endure all of the adversity we’ve faced.”

One of the players who has bought into the culture of toughness is Jenna Johnson who over a two-week span had three sets of stitches in three separate games and still played.


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“I think it just speaks to our culture and toughness,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked a lot this year about the ‘next man up’ mentality and obviously we’ve lost some big pieces. Just to rally around those girls and all of the adversity we’ve faced- to come back and get such a high seed is really cool and speaks a lot to individually each person on our team- just their character and us as a whole and how we work together.”

Utah star Alissa Pili agreed with her teammate, noting that toughness and resiliency is what Utah wants everyone who crosses their path to know about them.

“I think that is kind of what we hang our hats on is just being tough,” Pili said. “Despite anything that comes our way- or adversity that we may face, we’re going to keep fighting and pushing forward. It’s a great thing to be a part of when you know nobody on your team is going to back down no matter what. It makes you want to do the same. I think that is what makes us so special.”

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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Adversity Has Prepared Utah Women’s Basketball For Rigors Of NCAA Tournament