Before the University of Utah women’s basketball team hears its name called on Selection Sunday, let alone plays a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament late next week, the Utes have to first actually get to Selection Sunday.
Coach Lynne Roberts’ team lost in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament on March 2. Roberts didn’t require her players to be back on campus until March 5, by which time spring break had commenced. There are no classes, and it’s been a week of no opponent to scout and prepare for. That will come to an end once the field of 68 is revealed, but the waiting since the Pac-12 Tournament, and the fact there will be at least 15 days between games, has been awkward.
“It’s a fine line of wanting them to enjoy this, and be excited, but also making sure that we get the work in,” Roberts said Wednesday afternoon on a Zoom call. “I think what you don’t want to do is take too much time off, and then they lose any sort of physical edge or anything like that. But you don’t want to overdo it so that we’re tired again in two weeks. So, it’s working with the people that are smarter than me and figuring out how to manage their bodies and all of that.”
Point guard Issy Palmer missed the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal loss to eventual-champion Washington State with injury, and Roberts indicated Wednesday the Utes were banged up beyond just that. The early tournament loss then afforded some extra rest maybe Roberts didn’t initially anticipate.
Upon returning to campus over the weekend, Sunday and Monday were light work days. Tuesday was practice, Wednesday was off, Thursday was slated to be a live scrimmage against the male practice players, complete with officials. A film session on Friday and a light practice on Saturday lead into Selection Sunday, which Roberts wants to make sure is a celebratory, if not reflective time for her players and their families.
“I think we’re excited, we talked about it as a team yesterday that we get the opportunity to host (the first two rounds) and teams dream about that, players dream about that, coaches dream about it, and we get to do it,” Roberts said. “We need to be excited, and we are we. This is what we set out to do, win a Pac-12 championship, which we did, and host, so it’s pretty cool to check those off.
“Even when you know you’re in and you know your name is going to get called there’s something special about when it happens. It’s pretty cool. And so I think we just have to stay motivated, stay locked in, stay connected through Sunday and I think once we know who we’re playing then I think the adrenaline will kick in for sure.”
Utah (25-4) was a projected No. 1 seed before the loss to Washington State, but has since been moved down to a No. 2 seed, per ESPN women’s bracketologist Charlie Creme.
As the Utes kept winning through January and February, and the notion of hosting at the Huntsman Center became more real, Roberts consistently offered caution that nothing was done until it was done. After Utah beat Stanford to claim its share of the Pac-12 regular-season championship on Feb. 25, that went out the window.
Utah winding up as one of the top-16 overall seeds, complete with the ability to host two games, is imminent, it’s just a matter of where the Utes fall and who the other three teams coming to Salt Lake City are.
With a week of no opponent scouting, Roberts admitted Wednesday that she has allowed herself to take a closer look at the bracketology, specifically under the assumption that Utah is going to be a No. 2 seed. There is also the matter of which regional site the Utes may end up at, Seattle, or Greenville, S.C.
“Just looking in terms of who are the potential 15-seeds, who are the potential 7s, 10s, but again, you can only go off the bracketology that is out there, and that’s not the real bracketology. As these conference tournaments finish up, if there’s upsets, that knocks out at-large bids, there’s a lot of nuance to it. I’m not anxious, but I’m excited to see who we play and if we’re fortunate to win two games, where we would go. Seattle or Greenville, and I’m cool with whatever. I just want to win and advance, so we’ll take it as it comes.”