SALT LAKE CITY — Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts is only looking forward at this point of the season with huge games this weekend at UCLA Friday night and at USC Sunday afternoon. However, she still can’t help but lament about the ones that got away and could end up costing her team a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Utes are having their best season since she took over as coach in 2015 with 20 overall victories and nine wins in Pac-12 play, both highs since Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011. They have defeated Stanford (currently No. 7) and they played competitively against other likely tournament teams Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State.
When the Utes lost by two points to ASU in January on a buzzer-beating shot, Roberts said “losing that way is the hardest.” However, that was topped by the loss to the Sun Devils in Tempe last week when the Utes blew an 18-point lead in the final quarter, allowing a 20-0 run and suffering another two-point loss.
“The ASU losses, especially down at their place — that was one of the most painful losses I’ve ever experienced,” Roberts said. “I hope it doesn’t come back and haunt us.”
A win in either game would pretty much have locked up an NCAA berth for Utah, with ASU being ranked in the top 20, but now the Utes have some work to do and it’s even tougher because of injuries.
The Utes have been decimated, losing second-leading scorer Daneesha Provo in the first game of the league season to a torn ACL and then last week, third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Dre’Una Edwards to anther knee injury.
“We’re down to seven players right now, which is crazy,” Roberts said, then adding with a smile, “but we only need five, as far as I’m aware.”
“That’s disappointing, a tough situation. But no one feels sorry for us,” Roberts said. “Every team in America can say they had this situation or ‘what if this or what if that.’ It is what it is, so we have to lace them up and get after it.”
Roberts feels like her team needs three more victories to sew up the team’s first NCAA bid since 2011.
“We have to finish on a strong note, probably win three more games somehow,” she said. “We’ve got to make a statement down the stretch here. When you win 20 games, it’s a great year, but we want to make the tournament and I’m not shy about saying that.”Comment on this story
The Utes are led by senior Megan Huff, who leads the team in scoring (19.6 ppg) and rebounding (9.9 rpg). Kiana Moore (9.1 ppg) has stepped up since moving into a starting role and freshman Dru Glyten (8.7 ppg) and senior Erika Bean (6.6 ppg) have started every game this season.
“It’s kind of been a strange year with adversity we weren’t anticipating and can’t really plan for, but I’m so proud of our team,” Roberts said. “It’s been rewarding to coach.”
After playing UCLA Friday at 8 p.m. MT and USC on Sunday at 1 p.m. MT, the Utes will prepare for the Pac-12 tournament, which has moved to the MGM Arena in Las Vegas this year, beginning Thursday.