LAS VEGAS — For the past several weeks, the shorthanded and fatigued Utah women’s basketball team has been staggering.
Decimated by injuries, the Utes have had only seven healthy players available and they lost eight of their final 10 regular-season games.
Then in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament Thursday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, No. 6 seed Utah faced an inspired No. 11 Washington team.
So maybe it shouldn’t have been too surprising that the Huskies upset the Utes, 64-54, before a crowd of 3,168.
The Huskies (10-20) became only the second team in Pac-12 Tournament history to finish the regular season with two or fewer league victories and go on to win a tournament game.
“It took all of us to believe and it starts with the belief to do something nobody else thinks we can do,” said Washington coach Jody Wynn.
As for Utah (20-10), a team that at one point this season was ranked No. 14 in the country, it appears its season is suddenly over — the Utes aren't interested in a possible NIT bid.
“We’re not in the discussion for the NCAA Tournament at this point,” said Ute coach Lynne Roberts. “Today was probably the nail in the coffin there. If they called us, I’m sure we’d accept. Anything else, I think we’re tired. We’re worn down and you could see it today.”
Utah defeated Washington handily in the first two meetings this season. The Utes won 88-56 at home and 58-43 on the road.
But Thursday was a different story.
Utah got off to a slow start and trailed most of the first quarter. But the Utes battled back and took a 24-21 lead with six minutes remaining in the second quarter.
From there, Washington went on a 25-4 run from the end of the second quarter until the halfway point of the third quarter. The Huskies went up by as many as 19 points, 51-32, late in the third period.
“Washington played loose and full of fire. They shot the ball well,” Roberts said. “They defended us well. I congratulate them on advancing … We certainly didn’t overlook them.”
The Utes shot just 19 percent (3 of 16) from the field in the third quarter. On the night, Utah had 22 turnovers and Washington scored 29 points off those turnovers.
“It started with our transition defense in the first half and forcing turnovers,” Wynn said. “That got us going.”
Despite trailing by 16 going into the fourth quarter, the Utes fought back, cutting the deficit to seven points with 3:30 remaining. But shots in the waning minutes wouldn’t fall.
Washington’s Missy Peterson scored a game-high 23 points, tying her career high, and drilled 6 of 8 3-point attempts, a career best.
While the Huskies advanced to Friday’s quarterfinal game against No. 3 Oregon State, it appears that the Utes' postseason run is done.
Roberts reflected on the challenging season.
“It’s going to take a lot of mental discipline to not look back with the what-if and what-could-have-beens. We had some painful, painful close losses at the last second,” Roberts said. “We’ve had two starters go down when we were rolling. It’s hard not to focus on that. I told the team, is that I want to focus on what we did do. Going into the season, we said we wanted to do things that Utah basketball had never done in the Pac-12 and we did.”
Meanwhile, she praised her players’ effort in the face of adversity.
“I’m incredibly proud of our team. Am I ticked off and disappointed that we lost? Absolutely. But I’m so proud of this team’s resiliency,” Roberts said. “This team has been a joy to coach. We’re laying a foundation. Our seniors took this program to another level. We intend to keep climbing.”
“This isn’t the way we wanted to end our season, but how everyone’s handled it has been amazing. We only have seven players, but we never focused on that,” said Utah senior Megan Huff, who collected a career-high 17 rebounds to go along with 10 points. “We’ve gotten worn out. But the program is jumping forward.”4 comments on this story
Wynn acknowledged the trials the Utes have endured this season.
“Utah’s a heckuva a ball club with a great coach,” she said. “We all know who they’re missing.”
Despite the difficult tournament setback, Roberts remains optimistic about next season.
“We squeezed everything out of this group that we can and they squeezed it out of themselves as well,” she said. “The adversity we hit, it just happens and life goes on. We’ve got to move forward and focus on the future. The future’s bright.”