Lynne Roberts talks staying at Utah, transfers in and out of the program, NIL, and the new standard of the Final Four

The Utes’ women’s hoops coach takes stock of the program after its first Sweet 16 run in two decades.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lynne Roberts, University of Utah women's basketball coach, runs practice in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.

Lynne Roberts hasn’t had much time to take it all in during these last two months.

Immediately after Utah went on a Sweet 16 run, Roberts had to hit the recruiting trail hard and navigate retaining her own roster in the era of NIL. She also had to review plans with the athletic department to make sure the momentum around her program continued, especially in terms of added resources and ticket sales.

But the most immediate matter that had to be addressed was the simple question: Would Roberts stick around to see it all through?

It’s a natural question for any college coach after a March run. Suitors are out there for someone who just brought Utah to the second weekend of March for the first time in two decades.

And Roberts admitted that there were a handful of offers out there for her. But as she met with Utah athletic director Mark Harlan, she said it didn’t take long for her to turn them down.

“I was approached,” Roberts said. “I mean, this is what I’ve shared with Utah. Like, I want to be here. I want to win a national championship. I know we can do it here. I just want to be at a program where, you know, my priorities are that I want to win a national championship. So I want to be somewhere where we are supported in what it takes. And as long as we’re doing that, then I’m happy here.”

She added the necessary caveat that she will always continue to push for more resources. But she also reiterated she was pleased with the way the athletic department has helped.

“They’ve been great. They have made it clear they want me here,” Roberts said. “And they’re supporting our program the way I’m asking, and that’s why I love it here. And my family’s here and we love it. So this is where I want to be, and I want to win a national championship. And so as long as we’re moving in that direction, then you know, I’ll retire here.”

And with that, Roberts embarked on a busy offseason schedule. She spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune about the transfer portal, NIL, and setting a new bar — chasing a Final Four berth.

Keeping the core, losing a few role players

In terms of roster construction, Utah kept all five starters from last year’s team. Roberts admitted a few starters were approached by other schools about transferring for more NIL money.

“If you are an impact player at a Power Five school, it’s happening,” Roberts said.

All five decided to stay, which means the core of Gianna Kneepkens, Kennady McQueen, Alissa Pili, Jenna Johnson and Issy Palmer will run it back. Utah has been ranked a preseason top-five team because of it.

But the periphery around them will be different. Freshman Teya Sidberry transferred to Boston College. She played in 28 games last year and averaged around 11 minutes and five points. She figured to be a bigger piece going forward. She is also a Salt Lake native, having gone to high school at Judge Memorial.

“I think I was surprised by her leaving,” Roberts said. “Being from Salt Lake City, I think she wanted to spread her wings. I know she did. … I support [her].”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Teya Sidberry (32) makes her way down the court as the University of Utah hosts the Oklahoma Sooners in women’s NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.

Beyond that, Kelsey Rees and Peyton McFarland also departed, taking with them some depth in the frontcourt. Rees transferred to Oregon State and McFarland ended up at Houston.

In both instances, the writing was on the wall. Neither were likely to start and unseat Johnson or Pili.

“I think with [them], each having one year left, I think they realized that their role was going to be similar in that they probably weren’t going to beat out Alissa Pili or Jenna Johnson,” Roberts said. “So it was like, ‘OK, I want a chance to maybe play more.’”

In their absence, Utah added a few pieces. Boston University’s Sam Crispe, a 6-3 big who can stretch the floor, will add depth to the frontcourt. Also, former Wisconsin guard Maty Wilke will push for playing time with Kneepkens and McQueen. She logged nearly 34 minutes a night in the Big Ten and is a combo guard who can play the one or two.

“It’s too early [to see if she will push to start],” Roberts said. “But those three are as good of wings as anybody in the country.”


A big factor in roster retention, especially at the highest level of college basketball, is NIL money. It is the territory Utah has entered now as it tries to put together the pieces for a Final Four run.

Roberts believes that Utah’s NIL program is competitive with everyone in the Pac-12. There are some schools, like reigning champion LSU, that Utah probably can’t measure up with right now.

“I don’t think anyone’s on par with LSU,” Roberts said. “I’ve heard some stories that are just mind-blowing. But in terms of our conference, I think we’re fairly competitive. I think the SEC, south, it’s very, very different. It’s a different ballgame. And it’s a different set of integrity and, you know, code of ethics and all of that. They just do things differently.”

Final Four bar

Last year, the bar for Utah was the Sweet 16. It was well-documented that the team put up an empty circle in the rafters of the practice gym as a reminder they wanted to put up a Sweet 16 banner.

This year, the bar is the Final Four. With all starters returning and a few new pieces, there is optimism Utah will have the roster to do it.

On paper, this team can be deeper, especially at the guard spot. Last year, Utah had a handful of injuries that it really couldn’t get around.

Kneepkens had a knee injury. McQueen had an ankle injury. Palmer had a hamstring injury. They barely practiced for the final two months of the year.

“I say ‘hardly practiced’ — I mean, like, none,” Roberts said. “It was just maintaining. They didn’t do anything. In February and March, they would do some shootarounds and stuff, but that is it.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Lynne Roberts celebrates the win with her team as Utah hosts Princeton, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

The addition of Wilke will improve the team’s depth. Lani White, a freshman last year, will also be more prepared for bigger minutes. Inês Vieira will be a role player. Plus, Utah is bringing in freshman point guard Reese Ross, a Gatorade Player of the Year in South Dakota. At the very least, this backcourt could be more versatile.

“I just know it’s going to be competitive,” Roberts said. “If we are what we say we’re about — and that’s just about winning — then it’s going to be for the better. If we let our egos get in the way … then we could run into some trouble. Those are all the potential pitfalls, and it’s my job to make sure we avoid them.”

Beyond basketball, there is more momentum in terms of resources. Utah has already sold more new season tickets than at any point in program history. It is a program entering a new phase.

“I think there’s cautious confidence,” Roberts said. “We know if we just chop wood [we can do it]. My concern with this season is that they become too endgame-focused. That we’re just too focused on making the Final Four that we lose sight of the joy in the process. And so that’s going to be my challenge as the leader to try to pull the reins and be present.”