The wins kept coming, and Utah women's basketball coach Lynne Roberts asked for more from her team.
The Utes' goal this season, she said, never was to be 8-0 … or 9-0 … or even 11-0, their record as nonconference play ended. Utah wants to become a top-tier team in the Pac-12, translating to national recognition and an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Pac-12′s status in women’s basketball is both a blessing and a curse for the Utes. All they probably have to do to make the NCAA field is finish in the top half of the league, but that means being the best of the seven unranked teams.
The Utes open the Pac-12 schedule Sunday afternoon at Colorado, trying to go 12-0 for the second time in the program's history (the 1997-98 team started 16-0). They've been impressive in November and December, scoring at least 70 points in every game and beating every opponent by 10-plus points, with notable wins over Alabama, BYU and Florida. It gets tougher now. Five conference teams are in the AP Top 25: No. 5 Oregon, No. 6 Stanford, No. 11 Oregon State, No. 14 California and No. 17 Arizona State.
UTAH AT COLORADO
When • Sunday, 1 p.m. MST
TV • Pac-12 Network
The Pac-12′s scheduling rotation gives Utah a break, though. The Utes won’t visit Stanford and Cal; the Oregon schools won’t come to the Huntsman Center. So even with a young team, everything sets up well for the Utes to post a .500 conference record (or better) for the first time in the program’s Pac-12 era.
“I do think this group has potential to do some things in the Pac-12. I think we can win some games we haven’t won in the past,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to stay healthy, we’ve got to stay bought-in, we’ve got to stay motivated, we’ve got to keep improving. That’s one thing these guys have committed to doing; they want to get better.”
The Utes also went 11-0 to start the 2016-17 season. That team posted the worst conference record (5-13) in Roberts' first three years at Utah. So there's more for the Utes to do in hopes of establishing some presence in the conference.
“Until we've proven ourselves to be a top three or four team in the Pac-12, we're an underdog,” Roberts said. “We've been very good. I want to be great. To do that, I think we've just got to put on our underdog hat and wear it all year.”
Scoring won’t come as easily for the Utes in Pac-12 play, where they’ll have less of a height advantage. They’ve thrived offensively, with senior forwards Megan Huff (20.4) and Daneesha Provo (13.9) as the top scorers, complemented by freshman forward Dre’Una Edwards (12.4) and redshirt freshman guard Dru Gylten (7.1 points, 6.8 assists).
Edwards goes into conference play as the front-runner for the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award. “I don’t know what I’m in for, but I’m excited,” Edwards said. “I know we’re going to play some really good teams and I just love competition, so it’s fun for me.”