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Utah women’s basketball emerges from COVID-19 pause with No. 10 Oregon waiting for it

Utah head coach Lynne Roberts speaks with her players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 women's tournament Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The University of Utah women’s basketball team will board an Oregon-bound plane on Saturday in anticipation of its season-opener on Sunday afternoon at the 10th-ranked Ducks. Beyond that, the Utes will play at No. 17 Oregon State on Tuesday evening.

To even get to the point where Utah is ready to travel and finally play a game has taken some heavy lifting over the last two weeks.

Just like the football team, just like the men’s basketball team, the Ute women have been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. On Nov. 23, the athletic department announced a program pause “for the time being due to a COVID-19 positive case and resulting isolation of additional student-athletes under contact tracing protocols.”

As a result, the Utes’ Nov. 25 opener vs. Southern Utah was canceled, as was a Nov. 28 visit from Utah Valley. The team started quarantining last week, with no activity. Roommates were separated, everyone by themselves in either a dorm room, off-campus apartment or hotel room, with food being delivered to them.

“It’s not fun, especially on the week you think you’re going to be playing their first games,” sixth-year Utes head coach Lynne Roberts said this past week on a Zoom call with reporters. “Every day is its own situation. This is not stuff we’ve ever had to deal with. It’s not like we’re curing cancer, it’s not rocket science, but there are a lot of logistics and a lot of moving parts.”

SEASON OPENER

UTAH AT NO. 10 OREGON

When • Sunday, noon.

TV • Pac-12 Network

Despite the quarantine, Utah was able to begin individual workouts at its practice facility last weekend, with social distancing, masks and no contact. The Utes practiced Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then took Thursday off. Practice picked up again Friday, at which time the program’s quarantine period was scheduled to end.

The obvious question then becomes, if the Utes were under quarantine, how were they able to practice? According to Roberts — who was not part of any conversations or final decision-making made by medical personnel — the team was quarantined, but any player that had tested negative for a certain number of days in a row was allowed to be in the practice facility, which is considered a controlled environment. To that point, the practice facility is the only place players testing negative were allowed to be until Friday. Once there, they would get tested again, work out with masks and social distancing, then go immediately back to their dorm, apartment or hotel room.

A Utah athletic department spokesperson indicated to The Salt Lake Tribune Friday morning that the quarantine had indeed ended and that plans were moving ahead to travel on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s game.

The fact Utah now has to open on the road, with a pair of conference opponents, let alone a pair of top-20 conference opponents, is not lost on Roberts, whose team has not been able to scrimmage or fully practice through all of this.

Still, there is a game to play Sunday, and that certainly beats the alternative.

“We’ve been really, really intentional with what we’ve done, but there’s no substitute for playing a game,” Roberts said. “There’s no way to really substitute that in practice, but we can sit around and worry about that, or lace ‘em up and let’s roll. I’d rather lace ‘em, take it as it comes, and we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves on Sunday, but I really like our group.”

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