San Francisco • The Utah women’s basketball team received a tip of the hat from the coaches of the Pac-12 Conference on Monday. They put the Utes at No. 7 in their In their annual preseason poll, the highest spot for the team since the 2013-14 season.
But if the Utes feel they’ve got another run in them like they enjoyed last season — only less fleeting — they’ll have to prove it.
Oregon, which reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament last March, is the overwhelming favorite to win the conference championship with 121 points. The Ducks received the maximum 11 first-place votes (coaches cannot vote for themselves), and it’s no wonder. Projected WNBA No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu returns for Oregon, as do three other starters from a team that won 33 games last season.
Stanford got Oregon coach Kelly Graves’ first-place vote and a total of 111 points. The Cardinal finished second last season and brought in the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, one that included the nation’s No. 1 recruit, Haley Jones, and dunking sensation Fran Belibi. They will join four returning starters and Hall-of-Fame coach Tara VanDerveer.
Oregon State followed with 99 points, then UCLA (93), Arizona State (77) and Arizona (73).
Utah garnered 58 points and was predicted to finish roughly the same as it did last year, when the Utes went 9-9 to tie California for sixth place.
The Utes were on track to have a breakout season in 2018-19 before the wheels fell off. After starting with an 18-1 record and reaching as high as No. 14 in the AP Top 25 poll, the Utes got derailed by injuries and lost nine of their last 11. While the Pac-12 sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, Arizona State got the nod over Utah. The Utes did receive an invitation to the WNIT, but coach Lynne Roberts declined it because she only had seven healthy players on her roster.
This season, Utah brings back a pair of seniors in sixth-year senior guard Daneesha Provo, one of the athletes lost to injury last year, and Kiana Moore, a Pack-12 All-Defense honorable mention selection. It also returns Pac-12 All-Freshman Team guard/forward Dru Gylten and a strong freshman class that includes five-star recruit Kemery Martín out of Corner Canyon.
Utah begins Pac-12 play on Dec. 29, when it hosts Colorado at 2 p.m. The game will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
USC, which drew in a top-10 recruiting class last fall, was picked No. 8 in the poll with 47 votes. Washington (35), Washington State (34), Cal (28) and Colorado (16) round out the coaches’ picks.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott also announced during the Pac-12 media day that the conference championships will be held in Las Vegas, at T-Mobile Arena, through the 2022 season.
This story will be updated.
PAC-12 WOMEN’S BASKETBALL POLL
First-place votes in parenthesis
1. Oregon (11) 122
2. Stanford (1) 111
3. Oregon State 99
4. UCLA 93
5. Arizona State 77
6. Arizona 73
7. Utah 58
8. USC 47
9. Washington 35
10. Washington State 34
11. California 28
12. Colorado 16