Ever since women's basketball practice started in September, any discussion of Utah's team has featured two distinct groups: the seniors and the freshmen.
The roster has a gap between those two classes, partly explained by two key freshmen having redshirted last season, an injury to a sophomore and some attrition as coach Lynne Roberts has established her program. Allowing for the contribution of junior guard Kiana Moore, the Utes will go as far as their seniors can take them in 2018-19 — with the freshmen needing to come along quickly, as Utah opens the season Wednesday at Nevada.
Now in her fourth season, Roberts arrived at Utah with credentials as a program builder. It took her three years to make Chico State a Division II power and six years to turn Pacific into a Big West contender. She would love to accelerate that timetable with the Utes, although breaking into the top four in this conference would be quite an achievement for the program, whenever that happens. The immediate question is whether the Utes can rise above eighth place, where they finished last year and where they're picked this season.
Roberts feels settled, and that's a good starting point. Her rebuilding experience suggests “it takes three full seasons, going into your fourth , where you really feel like the culture is sticking,” she said, describing her program as “still pushing the boulder up the hill.”
Three seniors will do the bulk of the pushing this season. Forward Megan Huff is an All-Pac-12 player who averaged 14.7 points and 7.8 rebounds last year for a team that finished 18-14 overall, 8-10 in the conference. Another forward, Daneesha Provo, is the team's most dynamic athlete and a good 3-point shooter. Guard Erika Bean has started 61 games in her career. The Utes also have shooting specialist Sarah Porter, a graduate transfer from UC Santa Barbara.
Utah lost 6-foot-5 sophomore Maurane Corbin to injury and 6-3 freshman Lola Pendande of Spain has yet to join the team, due to the admission process. The lack of size will affect Utah's defensive presence, beyond the graduation of shot blocker Emily Potter. “We're also going to be able to do some things differently,” Roberts said, “because we don't have that traditional center.”
The Utes showed that new style in a 118-80 exhibition victory over Westminster College. They ran and pressed, playing fast and aggressively. Redshirt freshman guard Dru Glyten thrived in that approach. Her 16 assists would have been a school record in a regular-season game.
The pace “takes so much pressure off your offense,” Provo said. True freshmen Dre'Una Edwards and Andre Torres scored 20 and 12 points against Westminster, and redshirt freshman Jordan Cruz also was in the rotation.
“A lot of us had fun out there,” Provo said, “celebrating each other.”
The Utes hope to do more of that in 2018-19, blending the old and the new.
All times Mountain
Wednesday – at Nevada, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 13 – Alabama, 7 p.m..
Nov. 16 – Long Beach State, 7 p.m..
Nov. 19 – Idaho State, 7 p.m..
Nov. 21 – at Eastern Washington, 5 p.m..
Nov. 26 – Seattle, 7 p.m.
Dec. 1 – Utah Valley, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 8 – BYU, 7 p.m.
Dec. 15 – Weber State, 2 p.m.
Dec. 20 – vs. Florida at Las Vegas, 1 p.m.
Dec. 21 – vs. Hawaii/UNLV at Las Vegas, TBD.
Dec. 30 – at Colorado, 1 p.m.
Jan. 4 – Arizona State, 7 p.m.
Jan. 6 – Arizona, noon.
Jan. 11 – at Washington State, 8 p.m.
Jan. 13 – at Washington, 3 p.m.
Jan. 18 – Colorado, 7 p.m.
Jan. 25 – California, 7 p.m.
Jan. 27 – Stanford, noon.
Feb. 1 – at Oregon, 8 p.m.
Feb. 3 – at Oregon State, 1 p.m.
Feb. 8 – USC, 7 p.m.
Feb. 10 – UCLA, noon.
Feb. 15 – at Arizona, 6 p.m.
Feb. 17 – at Arizona State, 2 p.m.
Feb. 22 – Washington, 7 p.m.
Feb. 24 – Washington State, noon.
March 1 – at UCLA, 8 p.m.
March 3 – at USC, 1 p.m.
March 7-10 – Pac-12 tournament, Las Vegas.