Utah senior forward Emily Potter forced herself to come to grips with the fact that she had played her final game in the Huntsman Center.
Now, Potter and the rest of the Utah women’s basketball team will attempt to rewrite the ending to its season starting with the opening round of the WNIT against UNLV on Thursday night at ... wait for it ... the Huntsman Center.
“I definitely said goodbye to the Huntsman already, so it’s going to interesting going back there again,” Potter said with a chuckle. “I’m really excited, obviously, to see all the fans because they’re super passionate. Hopefully, we can host a lot of games at home and get people out and watch some games.”
The Utes lost to UC Davis in the first round of the WNIT last season in Salt Lake City after having advanced to the third round the previous season.
“Last year, we definitely didn’t have the season we wanted, and you could kind of sense that flatness in the WNIT,” Potter said. “This year, we’re definitely not in the tournament that everyone wanted to be in. At the same time, we could feel sorry for ourselves and have the same outcome as last year or do something that’s never been done before [at Utah] and try to win the WNIT.”
UNLV AT UTAH
When • Thursday, 7 p.m.
While Utes coach Lynne Roberts echoed Potter’s sentiments that last year’s team went into the WNIT lacking motivation — something Roberts described as “inexcusable” – she feels like there’s a different dynamic this time around.
Part of the motivation this year will come from the fact that Utes (17-13) not only felt they had a real shot to make the NCAA Tournament, but they also finished the regular season feeling like they hadn’t been able to give their best shot in the Pac-12 Tournament. They limped into the Pac-12 Tournament with just eight healthy players and their top two scorers either sidelined or limited by injuries.
Daneesha Provo (13 points per game) did not play, and the junior wing practiced for the first time this week. All-conference forward Megan Huff, who leads the team in scoring (14.3 ppg) and rebounding (7.7 per game) while shooting 50 percent from the field, “labored” in a nine-point, four-rebound performance against Colorado according to Roberts.
“I told the team [Tuesday] that there’s two reasons to play right now,” Roberts said after practice on Tuesday. “One is for our seniors and to keep this group together. Two is to propel our program forward, use it as a springboard for future years. We’ve got to be motivated. This group likes to compete. They don’t want to be done right now.”
The Rebels tied for first place in the Mountain West with Boise State. They won five of six to finish the regular season before falling to Nevada in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament.
The Utes and Rebels (19-11) met in a closed-door preseason scrimmage during October in Las Vegas.
“We know they’re aggressive, physical and super scrappy,” Huff said. “We just have to play our game, stay focused, stay under control and not get frantic just because they’re pressuring.”