Utah suffers first loss of the season as No. 22 ASU escapes on buzzer-beater

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard/forward Daneesha Provo (23) battles Arizona State Sun Devils center Charnea Johnson-Chapman (33) in Utes' Pac-12 home opener at the Jon M Huntsman Center on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. They're off to one of their best starts in team history.

“We’ll be all right,” Lynne Roberts said.

Even after seeing a star scorer go down with a knee injury, even after seeing an eight-point lead evaporate on her home court, even after seeing what was previously an undefeated start to the season go poof, Utah’s coach didn’t budge. Yes, the Utes suffered their first loss of the 2018-19 campaign in the most gut-wrenching way imaginable.

But this is how Roberts and her now 12-1 Utes are digesting the 65-63 loss to No. 22 Arizona State on Friday night inside the Huntsman Center.

“We have 16 more [games],” Roberts said. “We’re 1-1. We’re 12-1. We’re fine. This one stings because we had it — we had it in our hands and it was just kind of like, ‘What happened?’ Those sting more than others.”

What happened was Utah had a 63-57 lead with 1:28 remaining after freshman Dre’Auna Edwards (10 points) and Megan Huff (17 points and 10 rebounds) propelled the Utes. Then ASU’s Kianna Abis drained back-to-back 3-pointers — the second one from a couple feet behind the arc — to knot the game, 63-63. Utah played for the last shot, but as Huff drove the lane and drew contact, no foul was called. ASU nabbed the ball and called a timeout with 3.3 seconds left on the clock.

The Sun Devils eventually inbounded the ball to guard Reili Richardson, who dribbled the ball near the free-throw line and awkwardly threw up an off-balance shot that banged off the backboard and in with no time left. Utah’s unbeaten season ended there.

“They just made the last play,” Roberts said.

“We played 39 and a half minutes of great basketball,” added redshirt freshman Dru Gylten.

Sure, this one will hurt. But now the Utes await the news of MRI results on the right knee of senior guard Daneesha Provo, who had 13 points before suffering an injury that left the crowd silenced. The team’s second-leading scorer went down with a knee injury late in the third quarter when she intercepted a pass and went toward the hoop to draw a foul. Instead, she crumbled to the floor and needed assistance walking to the locker room.

Provo eventually returned to the bench in the fourth quarter, her right knee wrapped heavily with a large bag of ice over it. That now leaves the Utes with a total of eight healthy available players heading into Sunday’s home game with the Arizona Wildcats. Asked if that’s cause for concern, Roberts said in her third year as coach at Chico State, her team had eight players all year and that team won 27 games.

“I’m not worried about it,” she said.

Seated next to her head coach in the interview room below the Huntsman Center, Huff said quietly, “Good answer.”

Utah knew the reality that comes with life in the Pac-12. Going undefeated over the course of an entire season isn’t realistic for anyone in the conference. So there was going to come a time when Roberts had to see how her team rebounds from the first loss since last season. They have a quick turnaround and another one on Sunday to see first-hand.

“That’s the thing,” Roberts said. “It’s one game. It’s our first loss, and so you kind of think, ‘This is what it’s like to lose.’ To lose in that way, where we had it, it shows we’re right there. We’re tough as anybody. We can compete in this league with anybody. We’ve got to learn how to finish games.”