I feel like this year we have a different mentality. We know what we can do. We had some really good games and some really tough wins this year. —Utah guard Daneesha Provo
SALT LAKE CITY — It isn’t just a few names on the roster that have changed.
Everything from the energy to the mentality is different from last season, as the Utah women’s basketball team wrapped up the preseason with a 9-2 record after beating Oral Roberts University 71-50 Thursday afternoon.
“I feel like the team has a different mindset,” said Daneesha Provo, who came off the bench to score 10 points in the win. “Like, I feel last year if we would have lost a tough game to BYU, we would have just collapsed and the next two games would have dragged it. We wouldn’t know where our confidence is at. I feel like this year we have a different mentality. We know what we can do. We had some really good games and some really tough wins this year.”
This time last year, the Utes were undefeated, and that may not have been the best scenario as they entered Pac-12 play. “I think we had a little bit of a false sense of security,” said head coach Lynne Roberts. “I hate losing more than anything, but sometimes it’s good for you. I also think we’ve beaten some good teams. I think this team has a real sense of their identity, in terms of what makes them good. Last year, I don’t know if we would have said that.”
Utah jumped out to a lead and never trailed against Oral Roberts. But the Utes did allow the visiting team to outscore them in the fourth quarter 17-10.
Utah’s strength, once again, was its balanced offensive abilities. The team was led by Emily Potter, who scored 13 points, grabbed nine rebounds and earned a team-high four blocked shots. But Tanaeya BoClair added nine, Provo scored 10, and Tilar Clark and Tori Williams chipped in eight points each. Megan Huff earned nine rebounds and had three assists in the win.
For Oral Roberts, Maria Martianez scored 14 points, while Faith Ihim added 11 points. Utah shot 44.4 percent for the second game in a row. Utah’s defense, however, is going to be what allows the team to succeed.
On Thursday, the defense forced 13 turnovers, most of which led to transition baskets for Utah.
Both Provo and point guard Erika Bean, who finished with six points, five rebounds and four assists, said this team has spent the preseason learning how to win together.
“I think we have a little bit more confidence going into Pac-12, and we learned what we’re good at, like transition. We’re still finding our groove, and we’re going to carry that into the Pac-12. But it was just fun to grow.”
Provo added, “It also feels like the team is pretty experienced now, and we know what we’re capable of, and just being able to play to our strengths.” Roberts said she was proud of the focus Utah showed as all but two of the players are leaving to go home Thursday night or Friday morning for a much-needed holiday break. “We missed a lot of shots early,” Roberts said. “But these games are difficult, in terms of keeping focus. As a basketball player, the Christmas break is always kind of the carrot, and you try not to think about it. But everybody’s looking forward to getting some time off, and they deserve it.”
Roberts said that if they made some of the early layups they missed and made some of those stops in the fourth quarter, the score would have been more indicative of the Utes' talent and given a more accurate picture of the story of the game.
“I think we are better than the final score indicated,” she said, noting that Utah opens Pac-12 play a week from Friday in the Huntsman Center against Arizona. “I also think we’re pretty realistic about the Pac-12 in terms of, you know, we’re not going to go 18-0. So we’ve just got to be consistent in terms of chopping wood, and just getting better every week, and getting back to that. I get the sense that this team wants that. They just want to get better every week. You know, this league has shown six or seven teams are going to get into the tournament. You’ve just got to do your part.”