Consider where the University of Utah women’s basketball team has been before considering what it accomplished Tuesday night at Oregon State.
The Utes shut down basketball activities on Nov. 23 due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Everyone quarantined, with individual workouts mixed in, beginning Thanksgiving weekend. As a team, Utah did next to nothing before the quarantine was lifted on Friday, then had the unenviable task of opening the season Sunday at then-No. 10 Oregon.
Utah got blown out in Eugene by 42 points, but none of it mattered Tuesday. The Utes got a game-high 34 points from sophomore guard Brynna Maxwell, another 15 from classmate Kemery Martin, and outlasted the 15th-ranked Beavers, 85-79, in Corvallis to get a split of the Oregon swing.
Utah had not beaten an opponent ranked as high as the Beavers since defeating No. 6 Stanford during the 2018-19 season. This is Utah’s first road win over a top-25 team since winning at No. 19 Arizona State on Jan. 19, 2018.
“It’s hard to describe how proud I am of my team,” sixth-year Utes head coach Lynne Roberts told The Salt Lake Tribune via phone. “It’s not just because we beat a top-ranked team on the road, but it’s because we bounced back and recovered from Sunday. That’s a tough first game with Oregon, but also how we bounced back from the two weeks before that.”
Roberts spoke of initial concern in the wake of Sunday’s loss as to how her team would respond to a quick turnaround and playing another ranked team on the road. That concern didn’t last long as Roberts’ belief that this particular group is bought in and believes in the program’s culture came through.
That trust was rewarded as Maxwell was the best player on the floor Tuesday night, shooting 10 for 15 from the field, 4 for 7 from 3-point range and 10 for 10 from the foul line.
“She’s a superstar,” Roberts said of Maxwell, an All-Pac-12 honorable mention and all-freshman first-team selection last season. “She didn’t have a great first half, but she hit some huge shots down the stretch. She made her free throws at the end, and I never thought she’d miss them.”
With COVID-19 affecting all facets of this college basketball season, Roberts has talked in the recent past about controlling what she can control and rolling with whatever factors happen upon her on any given day.
By any measurement, she and her staff have done that, steering the program through the outbreak and to a seemingly-unlikely split in Oregon. The Utes are in the middle of a season now, so time for reflection is limited, but Roberts acknowledged that it was important for everyone to enjoy the win over Oregon State, at least on Tuesday night.
What comes next is a savvy piece of pandemic scheduling, signing on to play Montana State Friday, arguably as a reprieve to the ruggedness of the Pac-12 schedule, before diving back into conference play Monday at Colorado.
“What is so satisfying to me is that we showed who we are, we showed toughness,” Roberts said. “Sunday was hard, but we beat a ranked team tonight, and now we need to regroup.”