Utah women’s basketball team could benefit at Pac-12 Tournament from extended late-season road trip

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah women's basketball head coach Lynne Roberts runs her team through drills during practice at the Jon Huntsman Center on Jan. 2.

There is a scheduling quirk that pertains to the University of Utah women’s basketball team that has not escaped the attention of Utes coach Lynne Roberts.

Roberts, who is in her fifth season at the helm, is very aware that in her first four seasons, the Utes have never finished the regular season at home. That, in turn, leads to a lot of travel, and a short turnaround with the Pac-12 Tournament being contested later that same week.

For example, last season, the Utes finished the regular season at USC on a Sunday afternoon. They flew home the same day, but had to be in Las Vegas on Tuesday in anticipation of a first-round game on Thursday.

After four years of what Roberts believes is a competitive disadvantage, eighth-seeded Utah is trying something different ahead of its first-round Pac-12 tournament matchup with No. 9 seed Washington on Thursday afternoon (3 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

The Utes closed the regular season on Sunday at UCLA. Instead of flying home, the Utes opted to stay in Southern California before bussing to Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon ahead of Thursday’s game.

“I’m grateful to our administration for letting us do it, it actually saves money,” Roberts said Tuesday morning on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference. “We planned it, and academically, we’ve got everything covered. It wasn’t a school issue, but ever since we’ve been in the Pac-12, we have never, us and Colorado, have never finished at home the last weekend.

As far as academics go, that hurdle does not get cleared without help. The Utes already engage in scheduled daily academic time on the road, but in this case, an academic support team will be meeting them in Vegas.

Aside from the obvious advantage of saving money with one less flight, another advantage is cutting down on wear and tear toward the end of what has already been a long season. To that end, Utah would like to make some noise at the Pac-12 tournament.

“It allowed the kids to just relax, have a day together; they had some fun,” Roberts said. “We’ll see how we play, but as of now, everyone seems a lot more rested, energized and the batteries are a little more full with all that travel.

“I’m hoping in years to come, we could finish at home on the last weekend, that would be nice, but we’ll see.”

Utah (13-16, 6-12 Pac-12) beat Washington in the only meeting between the two this season, 74-65, in Seattle on Feb. 7. Freshman guard Brynna Maxwell, who was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention and to the Pac-12’s All-Freshman first team on Tuesday, led all scorers with 16 points, while the Utes’ defense yielded just 36.5% shooting and 23.5% from three-point range.

No matter which postseason tournament we’re talking about, an 8-9 first-round game is generally a crapshoot. Whichever team wins will then draw the unenviable task of facing prohibitive National Player of the Year favorite Sabrina Ionescu and No. 1 seed Oregon in a Friday quarterfinal.

“That’s quite a prize, right? You win, you play Oregon,” Roberts said tongue-in-cheek. “We’ve played them tough in years past. This year, we’ve haven’t been as competitive in the two games we played them, so if we do play them again, I look forward to the chance to do so.”

Oregon defeated Utah, 88-51, on Jan. 5 in Eugene and 90-63, on Jan. 30 at the Huntsman Center.


At Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas

All times MST

Thursday, first round

No 5 Arizona State vs. No. 12 Cal, 12:30 p.m.

No. 8 Utah vs. No. 9 Washington, 3 p.m.

No. 7 USC vs. No. 10 Colorado, 7 p.m.

No. 6 Oregon State vs. No. 11 Washington State, 9:30 p.m.

Friday, quarterfinals

Arizona State/Cal vs. No. 4. Arizona, 12:30 p.m.

Utah/Washington vs. No. 1 Oregon, 3 p.m.

USC/Colorado vs. No. 2 UCLA, 7 p.m.

Oregon State/Washington State vs. No. 3 Stanford

Saturday, semifinals

Semifinal No. 1, 7 p.m.

Semifinal No. 2, 9:30 p.m.

Sunday, championship game

6 p.m. or 9 p.m.