I think it’s just a sign of us getting better as a program, and being more established in the Pac-12. —Utah head coach Lynne Roberts
SALT LAKE CITY — Statistically, it wasn’t perfect.
It was, however, the perfect Pac-12 season-opener for a team that hopes to prove it is “no longer the stepchild” of the conference.
“I thought it was a good win,” said Utah head coach Lynne Roberts after Utah opened conference play with an 89-55 win over Arizona Friday night at the Huntsman Center. “Any time you can win convincingly in the Pac-12, I don’t care what the situation is, it’s a good win. I thought we controlled the game for the most part, and we had a really good first and third quarters.”
And while Friday’s win was flawed – too many missed free throws, too many turnovers – it was also the Utes largest margin of victory since joining the conference in 2011.
“I think it’s just a sign of us getting better as a program, and being more established in the Pac-12,” Roberts said. “We’re no longer the stepchild. You look at how everybody’s doing – football, men’s basketball, volleyball – I mean, it’s time for us to get there too.”
Roberts said the team has no illusions about what Friday’s decisive win means, but they also feel comfortable with their progress.
“We’re not naïve,” Roberts said. “We know that it’s tough, and Sunday (hosting Arizona State) is going to be hard and challenging, but I think we know what makes us good, and we know what gives us challenges, but I also think we believe in ourselves. And we believe we can compete with anybody. I’m not saying we’re perfect or that we’ve arrived, but we’re a work in progress. And that’s a good step.”
Utah may have lost starting shooting guard Tori Williams, who went down early in the game with a severe ankle sprain. Daneesha Provo took her place on the floor and earned a career-high 24 points.
“It means a lot,” Provo said of having such a great game in the conference opener. “I feel like my teammates believed in me. Losing (Tori Williams) was a big loss for us because she’s pretty productive And I just felt like my team was just there for me and believed in me.”
Senior Emily Potter, who had an impressive night with 14 points and 9 rebounds, has had to try to defend Provo in practices.
“Daneesha just drives and finds ways to score,” Potter said. “She’s really crafty around the rim, kind of changing where the ball is to get finishes around people.”
JaLea Bennett led the Wildcats with 18 points, while Utah’s Megan Huff had a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, despite being in foul trouble early.
Utah owned the board with 24 offensive boards and earning 54 total rebounds to Arizona’s 27 total. Potter said that was indicative of the Utah mindset.
“Just like the mindset of aggressiveness,” she said of why their rebounding was so dominant. “Pac-12 season is a whole new season, and to get wins everybody on every team has talent, and It just comes down to determination. That’s what rebounds are – just who wants it more. We did a good job of that today.”
And then Roberts corrects her, “You did a great job.”
The Utah women host Arizona State on Sunday at noon at the Huntsman Center, after which they’ll head to Washington on Jan. 5.