Las Vegas • Sure, Utah’s season hinges on how the Utes perform at the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Championship.
So, too, does their future.
The impact of the Utes’ 72-63 victory over Washington in the first round of the conference tournament was palpable in the moment. The Utes’ first Pac-12 Tournament victory since 2014 extended the careers of seniors Daneesha Provo, Kiana Moore and Zuzana Puc at least one more game. It meant another day of practice, another film session and another chance to do something amazing — which is what it will take to knock off their next opponent. The Utes next go up against top-seeded Oregon, the No. 3-ranked team in the country, in the quarterfinals Friday at 3 p.m. MST.
Oregon had a bye Thursday.
The shockwaves of the win over the Huskies may extend far beyond that, though. Entering the game, Utah fifth-year coach Lynne Roberts said she believed a win Thursday afternoon would set future Utes teams up for success.
“Everything is about springboarding and catapulting us into next couple years, where I think we’re going to be pretty doggone good,” she said.
The cornerstone to that was winning Thursday, and not just because Washington upset one of the Utes’ strongest teams last year in the first round as a No. 11 seed over the No. 6.
“I don’t want this group to not have won a game in the tournament,” Roberts said. “It’s not just because every time we play we want to win. I think this will give them some confidence going into the offseason.”
A player who grew up just 50 miles southwest of Seattle and who Roberts hopes has a long and bright future with Utah helped make that a possibility. Freshman Brynna Maxwell, a Gig Harbor, Wash., product, hit all five of her 3-point attempts — giving her the record for a Utes freshman — on her way to scoring a team-high 17 points. Fellow freshman Lola Pendande was the team’s anchor under the basket, also scoring 17 points and adding seven rebounds, while sophomore Dru Gylten steered the ship and contributed team-highs in rebounds (8) and assists (7) while putting up 12 points.
The No. 9-seeded Huskies (13-17) never let the No. 8 Utes (14-16) relax and enjoy watching the moment unfold mostly because of the efforts of senior guard Amber Melgoza. Melgoza, who has scored 500 points or more in each of the past three seasons, led the fight to extend her season by scoring 30 of Washington’s points, including all 11 of her free throws. It was her third 30-point game in a Pac-12 tournament game, giving her a spot in the record books.
Winning that first game will have even further ramifications for Utah, though. The Utes already have a Top-20 recruiting class coming in next season. Another shot at the Ducks could open the eyes of other young players looking to build a dynasty of their own. Players like Maxwell, a member of the Pac-12 all-freshman team, who said that’s one of the reasons she chose to play for Utah.
“What drew me to Utah was just that we could do a thing that’s never been done before,” Maxwell said. “I think tomorrow is a great opportunity to do that and show the world what Utah basketball is all about.”