It requires some imagination, but Utah coach Lynne Roberts can picture an era when her women’s basketball program regularly draws 6,000 fans — not wearing costumes.
In what's becoming an annual event, the Utes staged their “Future Scholars” event Thursday, creating a an energized atmosphere at the Huntsman Center with thousands of elementary school students. “Just crazy,” Ute freshman guard Bryanna Maxwell said after an 88-58 exhibition win over Westminster College. “So loud, so enthusiastic. You could just feel it.”
The scene will be different as the Utes' regular season unfold Tuesday at Cincinnati, with their home opener Nov. 16 vs. South Dakota. Roberts keeps building a program worth watching, though, with three freshmen combining for 35 points Thursday. Maxwell led the Utes with 15, followed by forward Lola Pendande with 12 (on 6-of-6 shooting in 14 minutes) and guard Kemery Martin with eight. Sophomore Niyah Becker scored 11.
Martin's older sister, Mariah, scored 11 points for Westminster. BYU transfer Abby Mangum led the Griffins with 13.
Westminster had led BYU by six points after three quarters Tuesday in a 69-61 loss. The Utes controlled this game from the start, leading 44-33 at halftime and expanding their advantage in a performance that Roberts approved, after being disappointed about the results of a closed scrimmage Saturday vs. Boise State.
Her players responded in practice. “They showed this week that they want to be great,” she said, “and they put the work in and they had the intensity and focus to get better and were significantly better [Thursday].”
Westminster, an NCAA Division II school, will open the season next Friday at Midwestern State in Texas.