University of Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts has herself a young team. In turn, every milestone, no matter how small, marks progress in the Pac-12, which has been one of the elite conferences in women’s basketball this season.
For any progress the Utes have made in 27 games, they have had lots of trouble against ranked opponents. That changed on Sunday afternoon as the Utes overcame a double-digit first-half deficit, then held off No. 21 Arizona State, 75-71, on Senior Day at the Huntsman Center.
The win over the Sun Devils, one of six Pac-12 teams in ESPN Bracketologist Charlie Creme’s latest projection, is Utah’s first over a ranked opponent in nine tries this season. All eight of those losses came to teams that were ranked in the top 11 at the time of the game. The Utes’ margin of defeat in the previous eight games was 24.3 points per game.
“I’ve been feeling like this was possible every time we play these opponents,” Roberts said. "The schedule has been relentless. It’s been hard to kind of maintain momentum. We’ll play well, win a couple of games. Two, three games, then play someone a little better than we are, a little more experienced at least, and it’s hard to step back and ramp up again.
“I never this season thought that we couldn’t have a breakthrough game or beat a ranked opponent.”
Two free throws from sophomore guard Dru Gylten with 3:01 to play gave Utah (13-14, 6-10 Pac-12) its largest lead of the afternoon at 72-64.
The Sun Devils (19-9, 9-7 Pac-12) got the deficit back to four after two freebies from Eboni Walker with 1:41 left, but the Utes did enough to close.
Up five inside the final minute, the Utes got a pair of defensive stops before redshirt senior guard Daneesha Provo hit two free throws for a 75-68 lead with 36.8 seconds left.
Arizona State led by as many as 11 in the first quarter, thanks in large part to 58.8% shooting from the floor, including a perfect 5-for-5 from 3-point range. The Utes’ deficit reached as many as 13 early, but they hung tough.
Brynna Maxwell’s stepback 3-pointer from the right wing gave Utah its first lead at 50-48 with 4:43 to play in the third quarter. That was the final bucket of an 8-0 run over 1:47.
Utah stayed hot, hitting seven of its final 10 shots of the third quarter to take a 61-57 lead into the fourth.
“Arizona State, they’re a very good team all-around,” Provo said. “Third quarter, we just wanted to fight and go over every screen we possibly could. We wanted to communicate out there and just be tougher. We knew it would be a physical game, but we just wanted to do whatever we could to get ourselves going.”
Maxwell and Andrea Torres led the Utes with 15 points each. Provo scored 12 points and Gylten had a double-double with 10 points and a career-high 12 assists.