The Pac-12′s high-quality women’s basketball programs is a big part of Utah coach Lynne Roberts’ pitch to recruits. The tradeoff is the Utes’ actually having to play against those teams.
The conference's scheduling rotation did Utah a partial favor last season, but not so in 2019-20. The Utes are booked for eight games against teams listed in the top half of the preseason AP Top 25: No. 1 Oregon, No. 3 Stanford, No. 7 Oregon State and No. 11 UCLA.
“This league is no joke,” Roberts said. “But it's what we all signed up for, so don't feel sorry for us. We're excited about it.”
The reality is the Utes, picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12, would do well to duplicate last season’s 9-9 conference record. They’re also likely to lose a nonconference game or two, after going 11-0 last November and December, in a season that begins Tuesday at Cincinnati. Utah’s home opener is Nov. 16 vs. South Dakota.
The Utes will succeed if: Senior forward Daneesha Provo resembles her old self and blends in well after returning to the court in December, having rehabilitated from knee surgery. The Utes kept losing players last season; adding a proven Pac-12 performer can only help. Utah also will need to persevere in a Pac-12 scheduling rotation that serves up the toughest teams.
The Utes won’t succeed if: They can’t replace All-Pac-12 player Megan Huff’s scoring. Drafted by the WNBA in April (although New York waived her in training camp), Huff was a highly valuable player, especially on offense. Guard Erika Bean, the other senior starter in 2018-19, was underrated. The Utes will have to account for her absence defensively.
Bottom line: Utah coach Lynne Roberts is a building a program that someday will contend in the Pac-12. The steady climb may level off in her fifth season, but Utah’s level of recruiting is encouraging and fans are responding well. Brynna Maxwell appears ready to thrive in the Pac-12 as a freshman, due to her shooting ability, and will be fun to watch.
Roberts can only hope that a young team develops quickly enough to compete with the Pac-12′s elite teams — and beat the others. The Utes upset Stanford last year, but didn’t have to play the Cardinal on the road, while meeting the Oregon schools only once each.
Utah will have considerably more depth, though. The Utes were down to seven active players, due mostly to injuries and transfers' ineligibility, by late February. With her players worn down, Roberts halted the season after a quarterfinal loss in the Pac-12 tournament, rather than play in the WNIT.
The personnel outlook is much better now, even though Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Dre’Una Edwards transferred to Kentucky. The future also is encouraging. The enrollment of Lola Pendande, a post player from Spain, was delayed for a year. But just makes her part of a talented freshman class with highly recruited guards Kemery Martin, from Corner Canyon High School, and Brynna Maxwell, from the Seattle area.
“This team is, like, go-getters,” said senior forward Kiana Moore. “Every time I step on the court with them, it’s like, ‘We’re getting after it today.’ ”
Maxwell led Utah with 15 points, including three 3-pointers, in an 88-58 exhibition win over Westminster College. Roberts raved about Maxwell's shooting ability when preseason practice started in September, and she hardly was exaggerating. “Truly,” Roberts said, “any time she misses, it is, 'Really? What happened? Is the ball an oval? Is the rim bent?' Everyone's going to love her.”
The roster is skewed toward youth. Utah's starters vs. Westminster included Pendande, Moore, sophomores Dru Gylten and Andrea Torres and junior Julie Brousseau, a transfer from Maine.
“We definitely have some phenomenal upperclassmen,” Roberts said, “but they’re way outnumbered. … As it goes with youth, there’ll be amazing days and challenging days.”
UTAH’S 2019-20 SCHEDULE
(All times Mountain)
Tuesday – at Cincinnati, 5 p.m.
Thursday – at Xavier, 5 p.m.
Nov. 16 – South Dakota, noon.
Nov. 22 – vs. Texas Southern, Honolulu, 3 p.m.
Nov. 24 – vs. Texas-San Antonio, Honolulu, 3 p.m.
Nov. 29 – at BYU, 7 p.m.
Dec. 5 – Oral Roberts, 7 p.m.
Dec. 14 – Nevada, 11:30 a.m.
Dec. 16 – Providence, 7 p.m.
Dec. 20 – Weber State, noon.
Dec. 29 – Colorado, 2 p.m.
Jan. 3 – at Oregon State, 8 p.m.
Jan. 5 – at Oregon, 3 p.m.
Jan. 10 – UCLA, 7 p.m.
Jan. 12 – USC, noon.
Jan. 17 – at Colorado, 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 24 – at California, 1 p.m.
Jan. 26 – at Stanford, 1 p.m.
Jan. 30 – Oregon, 8 p.m.
Feb. 1 – Oregon State, noon.
Feb. 7 – at Washington, 8 p.m.
Feb. 9 – at Washington State, 1 p.m.
Feb. 14 – Stanford, 7 p.m.
Feb. 16 – California, noon.
Feb. 21 – Arizona, 7 p.m.
Feb. 23 – Arizona State, noon.
Feb. 28 – at USC, 7 p.m.
March 1 – at UCLA, 2 p.m.
March 5-8 – Pac-12 tournament, Las Vegas.