Utah women’s hoops to open NCAA Tournament as No. 2 seed against 15th-seeded Gardner-Webb

Utes will host the first two rounds later this week at the Huntsman Center

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utes hold up the PAC-12 trophy, as they celebrate the Utes 84-78 win over the Stanford Cardinals, in PAC-12 action, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023.

The University of Utah women’s basketball hadn’t had much to do over the last 10 days except practice and wait.

Wait for Selection Sunday, wait for its seed, wait for its opponent, wait for what comes next. All of that waiting finally came to an end at the Layton Field Club at Rice-Eccles Stadium. With an estimated 500 family members, friends, and Crimson Club members joining in the moment, Utah was awarded the No. 2 seed in Greenville Regional 2.

The Utes (25-3), Pac-12 regular-season co-champions for the first time, will take on No. 15 seed Gardner-Webb, the Big South regular-season and tournament champion, in the first round on Friday at the Huntsman Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

As one of the top-16 overall seeds, Utah hosts the first two rounds. Should they win Friday, the Utes will face the winner of Friday’s other first round game between No. 7 seed North Carolina State and 10th-seeded Princeton on Sunday. A potential Sweet 16 matchup with No. 3 seed LSU looms on March 24 or 25 at 15,000-seat Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C.

“I’m pleased that we got a 2-seed, I think we earned that over the course of the whole season,” said Utes coach Lynne Roberts, the Pac-12 Coach of the Year after steering Utah to a share of its first Pac-12 regular-season title. “I know losing in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament kept us out of that 1-seed, but I thought we deserved a 2.

“I don’t know much about Gardner-Webb, but I know they always have a good team and they’re in this tournament for a reason. We’ll get right to work on them. I know N.C. State’s very good and Princeton as well, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Utah is appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season. Last season’s 21-12 Utes beat Arkansas in the first round at the University of Texas before bowing out to the host Longhorns two days later.

The Utes have not advanced to the Sweet 16 since Elaine Elliott’s 2006 team wound up in the Elite Eight, where it fell to Maryland in overtime. The Terrapins went on to win the national championship.

“It’s been a long wait, so we’re excited,” All-Pac-12 sophomore guard Gianna Kneepkens said. “Now we know who we’re playing and it feels more real, so let’s go play a game.”

Southern Utah nabs 14 seed, will face No. 3 seed Notre Dame on Friday.

Winners of the WAC Tournament for the first time, the Thunderbirds will make their NCAA Tournament debut on Friday as the No. 14 seed in Greenville Regional 1 against No. 3 seed and host Notre Dame. The game starts at 1:30 p.m.

The winner of that one at Purcell Pavilion advances to Sunday’s second round to face the winner of No. 6 seed Creighton and either Mississippi State or Illinois. The Bulldogs and Fighting Illini, both 11-seeds, will play on Wednesday in South Bend for the right face the Bluejays on Friday.