Utah women’s basketball team breaks through, beating Eastern Washington 87-49

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah coach Lynne Roberts, shown during a game last season, guided the Utes to their first win of this season Monday night, 95-51 over Eastern Washington.

Partly for the sake of enjoying a long flight to Hawaii later this week without dwelling on a winless record, the Utah women’s basketball needed a victory Monday night. Eastern Washington, having lost by 65 points at Stanford this month, was accommodating.

Even with the disclaimer of an overmatched opponent, with EWU (0-3) picked to finish in the middle in the Big Sky Conference, the Utes (1-3) showed improvement in an 87-49 victory at the Huntsman Center. Ute coach Lynne Roberts’ five-player substitution pattern worked well, as Utah shared the ball and dominated the boards.

Roberts probably won’t stick with that strategy all season, as the schedule continues Friday and Sunday with games against Texas Southern and Texas-San Antonio in Honolulu. Yet with a balanced roster in terms of talent and a lot of new players, the platoon approach seems to be creating some cohesion.

“Once we go in … we know where to look for each other,” said sophomore forward Niyah Becker. “As each group comes in, we can talk about what we want to do.”

Roberts views the approach as “a way to kind of get people going,” while guaranteeing players about a five-minute run in each quarter and allowing them to play through difficult stretches.

Becker, playing 19 minutes Monday with the second group, led the Utes with career highs of 17 points and 10 rebounds. Becker said she didn’t know she needed another rebound for a double-double, but the Ute bench erupted when she got the last one with seven seconds remaining.

Last season, while three Utah players regularly were winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week awards, Roberts suggested a fourth freshman (Becker) may have the most potential of any of them. That talent is starting to surface, from another of the program’s Canadians.

Freshman guard Brynna Maxwell added 12 points, including two 3-pointers – although Utah’s 6-of-22 shooting was the team’s only statistical blemish. The Utes shot 54.2% overall, and Roberts liked how her players passed up shots to give their teammates better looks. Sophomore guard Dru Gylten led Utah with seven assists.