Utah basketball star Gianna Kneepkens’ injury diagnosis ‘a blow to our program.’ Where do the Utes go from here?

Kneepkens broke multiple bones in her foot and will miss the rest of the year.

Utah guard Gianna Kneepkens broke multiple bones in her foot and will miss the rest of the season, head coach Lynne Roberts said Monday.

Kneepkens, an All-Pac-12 player and Utah’s second-leading scorer, was injured late against BYU and had to be helped off the floor.

Kneepkens was scheduled to meet with doctors Monday afternoon to explore the exact timeline of her surgery.

It is “a blow to our program,” Roberts said. “Something we all have taken in [during] the last 36 hours to kind of digest. But that is why we have been talking about our depth and I believe in this team.

“... We are kind of back to where we started a year ago where everybody is going to write us off again. But we thrive in that role and we will be fine. We will be good.”

Because Kneepkens only played in eight games, she will be able to medical redshirt and have two years of eligibility left. The threshold is nine games.

Against BYU, Kneepkens planted her right foot as she attempted a step-back three. Her body moved forward, but her foot remained planted.

She immediately fell to the ground and could not get up without the assistance of Roberts and athletic trainers. She had X-rays that night, confirming the severity of the break.

Roberts said the injury was not due to overuse, but more of a one-time accident.

“Gianna is struggling,” Roberts said. “If there is a kid that eats, sleeps and breathes basketball, it is her. But this is part of life. Life can stink sometimes. This is going to be a process for her that she is going to have to push through. She has got a group of teammates and coaches who love her. She will be all right. It is still a little raw. The fact that the season is over for her, she is still working through that.”

The Utah women moved up one spot to No. 11 after routing in-state rival BYU on Saturday. The Utes play at Saint Joseph’s on Thursday before taking on No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday afternoon.

Kneepkens will not travel with the team to Philadelphia or Connecticut for those games.

For the Utes, the loss of Kneepkens is hard to overstate. She has been a starter for Roberts since her freshman year and was averaging 17 points per game to go along with five rebounds and nearly four assists.

She was Utah’s best playmaker and one of the better guards in the country. She made the watchlist for the Naismith Trophy, an award given to the country’s best player.

“She was asking me today if she could help us scout,” Roberts said. “This is a kid that is just feverish about basketball and our program. So she is going to be a huge part of it.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Gianna Kneepkens (5) finds her stride as Utah hosts BYU in NCAA basketball at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

As for where Utah goes, it will need to fall back on the depth it spent all offseason building. Last year, Utah did not have enough offensive options behind Kneepkens and guards Issy Palmer and Kennady McQueen.

It went into the transfer portal to pick up Wisconsin guard Maty Wilke. She can be a high-level scorer, averaging over 11 points per game in the Big Ten. Many thought she was a starting-level guard before the season began.

Kneepkens was arguably Utah’s best pure scorer. Turning to Wilke could give Utah some of the offensive jump it will be missing.

But Roberts could also use senior Dasia Young, who is a defensive presence and can score in spots. She’s averaging 5.7 points per game and is a capable shooter. But this year she is only shooting 22% from three. During her first two years in the program, she hovered around 35%.

Young is also a good rebounder for her size and can get Utah some extra possessions.

“We are still figuring that out,” Roberts said. “[Wilke] is a scorer. And she needs to play like it and she needs to believe it. We are going to count on it. She can catch and shoot threes as well as Kennady [McQueen] and Gianna. She just needs to step up and do it.

“And Dasia Young is somebody who has played a lot of minutes [and] brings a different level of physicality and intensity to what we do and we need her to be more reliable.”

Utah will also need more from McQueen. She’s always been an efficient shooter — shooting 50% from three this year. But without Kneepkens, she might need to grow into more of a playmaker.

Roberts thinks that’s possible. McQueen is a fourth-year junior and has the experience to be able to make a leap. She is averaging nine points a game. Notably, she never scored more than 300 points in a season. Replacing Kneepkens’ scoring will likely require her to do that.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Kennady McQueen (24) as Utah hosts Princeton, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

The proven scorer Alissa Pili will need to log more minutes, too.

The one outstanding question is when Utah will get Palmer back. She has not played since mid-November and would also give the Utes another high-end shooter.

Palmer might be the closest player on the roster to Kneepkens’ playmaking ability when she is healthy. She was having the best shooting stretch of her career before she went out.

“We have enough talent in the room to still achieve our goals,” Roberts said. “It is just adversity hits and you either adapt and change or run away from it. And we are not running away from it.”