Utah women’s basketball team falls to unbeaten Colorado 80-70 in Pac-12 opener

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Niyah Becker (14) tries to grab the ball from Colorado Buffaloes guard Emma Clarke (3), in Pac-12 basketball action at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019.

It took the University of Utah women’s basketball team until halftime on Sunday to start playing up to its capabilities against the University of Colorado.

Lola Pendande said as much postgame, and coach Lynne Roberts didn’t see fit to argue her junior forward’s point. The Utes struggled early, clawed their way back to tie the game, but never led in falling to the Buffaloes 80-70 in front of 2,415 at the Huntsman Center.

“I think we’re more talented, and we could have beat them,” said Pendande, who finished with 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting and five rebounds. “I was 100 percent confident we could have this game, I just think we were missing a little bit of competitiveness, that’s what Coach has been talking about the last two weeks. We need the competitiveness that I think is lacking a little bit in the team.”

“I think our players just started fighting and playing with that passion and fight,” Roberts said. “To what she’s [Pendande] saying, we have to do that for 40 minutes. I’m tired of ‘Let’s have a rowdy halftime, then come out and compete.’ We’re not good enough to do that, we don’t have any room to do that, so that’s going to be my message to them tomorrow.”

Roberts can find solace in the fact her group, relatively young, inexperienced and playing in arguably the best conference in the country right now, made this a game after going down as many as 16 points early in the third quarter.

After turning up the defensive pressure out of the halftime locker room, Utah (7-5, 0-1 Pac-12) finally tied the game at 63 after Kiana Moore knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing with 7:47 to play in the game. That represented the game’s first tie, but the Utes couldn’t get over the hump.

A layup from Peanut Tuitele and a midrange jumper from Jaylyn Sherrod put the Buffaloes back in front by four with 6:09 left. A nice drive-and-kick from Sherrod to Emma Clark out of a media timeout resulted in a left-corner triple, pushing the lead to seven. Utah, which was minus-13 on the glass, never got within six the rest of the way.

“I believe in this group,” Roberts said. “The sky is not falling, I’m not going to go home and punch holes in the wall or anything like that. We just have to keep chopping away.”

Down as many as 16 early in the third quarter, Utah pulled to within one at 53-52 after Pendande knocked down an 8-foot jumper in the lane. Colorado (12-0, 1-0 Pac-12), unbeaten yet unranked, took control back over the final 2:00 of the period. Two Leslia Finau free throws and a layup from Charlotte Whitaker pushed the Buffaloes’ lead to seven with 55 seconds left. The Utah deficit was three going to the fourth quarter.

The early portion of Utah’s Pac-12 slate is unforgiving. Next up is a trip to No. 3 Oregon State on Friday, then No. 2 Oregon on Sunday.


• The Utah women’s basketball team falls behind by 16 points in the third quarter, fights back to tie the game, but falls to Colorado in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.

• Utah coach Lynne Roberts and junior forward Lola Pendande both note a lack of competitiveness in the postgame news conference.

• Utah has a rugged early stretch of Pac-12 games to deal with. The Utes are at a pair of top-3 teams next weekend in Oregon State and Oregon.