The question becomes whether the NCAA Tournament selection committee will look at the Utes as a damaged product or reward their whole season’s work. Roberts is not sure. The dilemma may solve itself, because the Utes will have to prove they can succeed in their current state.
Utah (20-7, 9-7 Pac-12) will end the regular season with games Friday at No. 25 UCLA and Sunday at USC, followed by the conference tournament next week in Las Vegas. ESPN’s Bracketology lists Utah No. 4 among the “first four out” of the NCAA field.
Roberts would like to believe her team has done enough to earn a bid, based on the history of Pac-12 programs that finish in the top half of the standings. Utah is sixth; six Pac-12 teams made this week’s ESPN list, including California (tied for seventh). Utah has wins over Stanford, Cal and BYU, all judged as NCAA teams.
UTAH AT NO. 25 UCLA
When • Friday, 8 p.m. MST
Live stream • UCLAbruins.com
Radio • ESPN 700.
The reality, Roberts said, is the Utes will have to win three more games to solidify themselves. That’s asking a lot. The Utes would have to sweep the Los Angeles swing against teams that beat them in the Huntsman Center earlier this month, or split those games and win two Pac-12 tournament games as a No. 6 seed.
“It's possible,” Roberts said. “We've had a great year, but I want to make the [NCAA] tournament and we haven't been shy about saying that. And we still have an opportunity to do it.”
Roberts was named one of 15 finalists for the Werner Ladder Naismith Coach of the Year Award, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Wednesday.
Roberts acknowledged that losing twice to Arizona State in the last second, after having a substantial lead in the late stages of each game, is “going to haunt us, potentially.” ASU is comfortably inside the NCAA field with a 9-6 conference record.
The Utes beat Washington and Washington State, two of the Pac-12′s worst teams, after Edwards was injured in the first quarter against Washington. Utah had played most of the conference schedule with eight players, resulting from injuries and players redshirting as transfers, plus a player leaving the program in December.
Edwards' injury means the Utes have lost two starting forwards since early January, when senior Daneesha Provo hurt her knee. Being down to seven players “is crazy,” Roberts said wryly, “but we only need five, as far as I'm aware.”
Having to staff 200 player-minutes in a game is taxing with only seven players, though. Senior guard Sarah Porter and freshman forward Niyah Becker figure to get about 15 minutes each as the reserves, so the starters will play about 35 minutes, as long as they avoid foul trouble.