Utah women’s basketball matches highest ranking in program history

The Utes are 12-0 as conference play resumes this week.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Gianna Kneepkens (5) looks for an open teammate as the University of Utah hosts the Oklahoma Sooners in women’s NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.

The Utah women’s basketball team keeps climbing.

After cruising to wins over in-state foes Weber State and Southern Utah last week, the Utes moved up to No. 11 in The Associated Press Top 25 on Monday.

That matches the highest ranking in program history. The Utes were also ranked 11th in the Jan. 26, 1998, AP poll.

Utah is undefeated after 12 games — tying another program record — as conference play resumes this week.

“To start 12-0 and to be doing as well as we are is fantastic and I think we’re ready for Pac-12 play,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said last week. “These last three games after we played Colorado, trying to stay sharp and keep pushing was a little challenging, but I’m proud of our team for where we’re sitting right now and what we’ve achieved. We have a lot in front of us, and a lot of work to do, and a lot of things to continue to improve upon, but I’m really proud of our team and where we sit right now.”

Top spot

South Carolina maintained its hold on top of the Top 25 women’s basketball poll Monday, reaching a milestone in the process.

The Gamecocks have held the No. 1 spot for 27 consecutive weeks, which is the fifth longest run all-time. UConn has three of the top four streaks, including the record 51-week run from Feb. 18, 2008-Dec. 10, 2010. Louisiana Tech has the second longest streak of 36 weeks. The Huskies also had 34-and 30-week runs at No. 1.

South Carolina started last season at No. 1 and hasn’t relinquished the ranking since, including a week a year ago when they lost a game, but remained the top team.

The Gamecocks have now passed Texas’ 26-week run to move into fifth all-time. They’ve gone 17-0 against Top 25 teams over the past two years, including a 3-0 mark this season.

The top five teams in the poll remained unchanged as Stanford, Ohio State, Indiana and Notre Dame stayed behind the Gamecocks, who garnered all 28 votes from a national media panel. South Carolina (12-0) hosts Texas A&M on Thursday.

While every team had a light week because of the holidays, conference play picks up now. The Buckeyes face rival No. 14 Michigan on Saturday after playing Northwestern on Wednesday. The Wolverines made the biggest jump, moving up five spots after beating then-No. 6 North Carolina in the Jumpman Invitational. The Tar Heels fell to 13th.

North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, UConn, LSU and UCLA round out the top 10.

LSU will face its first ranked opponent of the season when the Tigers visit No. 24 Arkansas on Thursday. The Razorbacks fell seven spots in the poll after losing to both Oregon and South Florida last week. It was the first two losses of the season for coach Mike Neighbors’ team.

Elite company

Iowa star guard Caitlin Clark matched Elena Delle Donne as the fastest player to reach 2,000 points in her career, according to the school. Both players did it in their 75th game. Clark made the 242nd 3-pointer of her career to get to the milestone. Kelsey Plum holds the NCAA record with 3,527 points in her career.

“Elena Delle Donne, she’s a person I idolized growing up. I have her shoes in my locker, I wear them,” Clark said after the game. “She actually just sent me a pair shoes that are dedicated to Lyme disease. Elena Delle Donne has battled Lyme disease in her career. She’s an awesome human.”

Ailing Auriemma

UConn hopes to have coach Geno Auriemma back when the eight-ranked Huskies visit No. 21 Creighton on Wednesday.

Auriemma missed the last two games, both UConn wins. The school said he began experiencing flu-like symptoms after shootaround on Dec. 18 before the Huskies faced Florida State. Auriemma’s 91-year-old mother died on Dec. 8.

“There’s been a lot going on in the last couple weeks, and I think it caught up to me physically,” the 68-year-old Hall of Famer said in a statement. “I’ve been feeling under the weather for about 10 days now, and my doctor recommended I take a few days off to fully recover. CD (longtime associate head coach Chris Dailey) and the coaching staff will continue to do a phenomenal job in my absence, and I look forward to returning to the team in a few days.”

Dailey has gone 15-0 in games that Auriemma has missed.