NCAA Tournament: Utah women’s hoops point guard expected to play after missing Pac-12 Tournament

Palmer missed Utah’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal loss to Washington State on March 2.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Issy Palmer (1) as Utah hosts Washington, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

Issy Palmer missed the University of Utah’s last game, but she appears set to play in the Utes’ next one.

Speaking on the eve of No. 2 seed Utah’s NCAA Tournament first-round contest against No. 15 seed Gardner-Webb at the Huntsman Center (5:30 p.m., ESPNU), head coach Lynne Roberts said she is expecting her fourth-year junior point guard to be ready.

“Yeah, we do, barring any sort of setback with her,” Roberts said Thursday morning at the Huntsman Basketball Facility. “The rest time has been critical to get her back. As of today, right now, whatever time it is, yeah, we anticipate her to go. So we’ll see how the next 24 hours go, but yeah, we anticipate her back.”

The Utes (25-4) have been off since March 2 following a 66-58 loss to eventual champion Washington State in a Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal. Since then, Roberts has said a number of times that the silver lining has been extra rest for Palmer and anyone else nursing anything minor.

Not long after Roberts spoke, Palmer was present and accounted for on the Huntsman Center floor for a 90-minute practice. During the 15-minute media viewing window at the start, Palmer worked on an exercise bike with athletic trainer Christina Jones, then joined her teammates for a shooting drill.

Palmer’s upper-right leg was wrapped, accompanied by a knee brace, but her movement did not appear restricted.

Upper bowl curtain likely to remain down

The Huntsman Center’s upper bowl curtain on Thursday morning was down, which falls in line with the athletic department’s original plan as it prepared to host the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

“We will base it on demand, we would love to open the curtains if the demand requires us to,” Gavin Gough, Utah’s associate athletic director for facilities, operations and capital projects, told The Salt Lake Tribune last week in the days leading up to Selection Sunday. “We would love for that opportunity, 8,500 lower-bowl seats would be an incredible turnout, and we think we can get there.

If you were at the women’s game against Stanford (on Feb. 25 when 9,611 was the announced attendance), it was up because we had such high demand. Our plan is to make that decision once as tickets go up and we see what the ticket sales look like throughout the week.”

Feb. 25, when the Utes clinched a share of their first Pac-12 regular-season championship, was far and away the biggest demand for a Utah women’s game this season. Demand for Friday is not expected to get to that level, but it could be strong given the season Utah has had, the name recognition of North Carolina State, and the deep, wide alumni base of Princeton.

The seventh-seeded Wolfpack and 10th-seeded Tigers will play in the Friday nightcap at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 following Utah/Gardner-Webb.

“That’s why I took this job, that’s why I wanted this job, is because of the tradition and the history,” Roberts said. ”Salt Lake City’s a basketball town. I knew we could do it — have a championship-level team and have a packed house. It’s hard. We’ve got to do our job as a program to put a product on the floor that people want to come see. So it starts with us.”