Battle-tested by rugged nonconference schedule, the Utah women’s basketball team opens Pac-12 play vs. Colorado

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah women's basketball head coach Lynne Roberts, right, runs her team through drills during practice at the Jon Huntsman Center on Wed. Jan. 2, 2019, as they prepare for their next game on Friday. The team is having one of the best starts in program history at 12-0.

Lynne Roberts has eight freshmen or sophomores on her roster this season.

When the Utes coach set out to craft her schedule, knowing she would have a lot of youth and inexperience, she did what any coach in her position would do.

Roberts scheduled tough.

The Utes, who open Pac-12 play on Sunday against Colorado at the Huntsman Center, began the season on the road at Cincinnati and Xavier. They played a pair of games in Honolulu against Texas Southern and UTSA. It was Utah’s turn to go to BYU. The Utes (7-4) scheduled Providence, which won 19 games last season and advanced to the WNIT’s Round of 16.

Roberts scheduling tough early may have yielded a few concerns from observers, but she knew what she was doing. The way Roberts sees it, not scheduling tough would have been doing her players a disservice once conference play begins.

“The Pac-12 is so ridiculous on the women’s side,” Roberts said. “If we fluff-scheduled, go out and try to win as many games as possible, we’d get our hair blown back against the Pac-12. Winning as many games as possible in November and December was not the objective.


At the Huntsman Center

When • Sunday, 2 p.m.

TV • Pac-12 Network

To Roberts’ point, the Pac-12 has collectively played like one of the top conferences in the country. Five Pac-12 teams are ranked in the latest AP Top 25, while No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Oregon State, No. 5 Stanford and No. 10 UCLA are all in the top 10.

Colorado, the clear pick to finish last in the league when the preseason coaches poll was released on Oct. 7, is 11-0, one of four Pac-12 unbeatens, but the only one of the four unranked.

Seven of the 12 programs have two losses or less. For its trouble, Utah’s 7-4 mark, while not as glamorous as some other members of the league, should be considered encouraging, while optimism is reasonable given the youth and inexperience.

“We need to maintain our composure,” Roberts said. “It’s going to be hard, but we have to maintain and keep coaching. The schedule is hard, and these first three games are going to be the hardest.

“Yeah, the league is projected to get six or seven teams in (the NCAA Tournament), and we have the potential to be one. That’s the goal. It remains the goal, but we have to go one at a time.

Beyond the Buffaloes, Roberts is going to find out immediately what the top of the league looks like when Utah travels to Oregon State on Jan. 3 and Oregon on Jan. 5.

Both the Beavers and Ducks are projected No. 1 seeds according to the latest Bracketology by ESPN’s Charlie Creme. Both are getting first-place votes in both national polls, while Oregon, a Final Four participant a year ago and buoyed by 2,000-point scorer Sabrina Ionescu, was the consensus pick to win the Pac-12 back in October.