The University of Utah basketball team heard all the questions about the Texas Longhorns.
Could the Utes handle their defensive pressure? Could they match their toughness?
But on Sunday, Utah simply didn’t have an answer.
“As far as our team went, today was not our best day. We certainly missed the size of Peyton McFarland today inside, our other center. We were a little outmatched there,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “But I am incredibly proud of our team. We’re so young. Our culture is fantastic. Our kids are bought in. They play super hard. They’re coachable.
“I told them afterwards, too, they should be upset. They should be disappointed. But time will give perspective on what we achieved this year, and I’m excited to see what we can do in the future.”
The Utes were in the tournament for the first time since 2011, a reward for an excellent campaign that saw them reach the Pac-12 title game. And they had reached the second round by blistering the nets for a school-record 15 3-pointers in Friday’s win over Arkansas. But against Texas, the young Utes never found their rhythm.
The Utes shot 6 for 20 from beyond the arc Sunday, turned the ball over 19 times and were out-rebounded 32-20.
Utah’s Kennady McQueen scored a team-high 18 points. Forward Jenna Johnson added 14 points. But no other Ute reached double-digits. Gianna Kneepkens, the Utes’ star freshman and leading scorer on the season, finished the game with four points.
Texas simply proved too much for Lynne Roberts’ young squad.
Utah struggled with the size and strength of freshman Aaliyah Moore, who scored a game-high 21 points (on 9-of-10 shooting) to go with seven rebounds. The Utes struggled with the tenacity of guard Aliyah Matharu, who had three of the Longhorns’ nine steals.
“I think they’re a great defensive team. We talked about that,” McQueen said. “That’s what they take pride in and we knew that coming in. I think we started the game well, so yeah, coming back out after halftime they definitely took away looks, and second quarter we had a little bit of a rough second quarter and I think they just hound down on their defense. I think that’s where we struggled a little bit, but yeah, I think that’s where it changed.”
Utah trailed 19-17 after the first quarter. But a Matharu bucket early in the second made it 29-19, the first double-digit lead of the game. Texas shot 71.43% in the first half.
A pair of Moore free throws made it a 20-point game, 52-32, early in the third quarter.
“I think we started off the game very well as far as pressure-wise. I think those first couple of minutes, I think we really got reversals and were getting wide-open shots. Maybe we didn’t make them all the time but we were in control,” Utah’s Dru Gylten said. “Then I think that second half, yeah, maybe they just got into our heads a little bit and we were trying to do a little too much. We just wanted somebody to make a play and kind of relying on other people to do stuff and kind of got away from what we do best.”
The Utes finished their season with a 21-12 record.
“I think starting in summer workouts you could just tell it was going to be a special year,” McQueen said. “Everyone was so determined, brought in great freshmen, and ... everyone learned from each other and got better every day. Yeah, I think we definitely turned it around, and the season was a blast.
“Definitely a highlight for me, too, was the Pac-12 tournament, that was super fun, and being able to experience this and be a part of March Madness. But we’ll be back.”