Pac-12 Feature: Potter confident in return after injury

Utah Athletics

Emily Potter isn’t going to lie. She was a little excited earlier this week when she saw that ESPN’s women’s basketball “Bracketology” had a spot for the Utah Utes in the NCAA Tournament field.

“I grew up dreaming of playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Potter said. “That’s the goal for the end of the year. We have work to do. But it’s exciting to think about being a part of that. It’s been a while and no one on the team has been through that.”

But Potter, the Utes 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Winnepeg, isn’t ready to shed the underdog label for her team just yet.

“I know what our team is capable of, having been around these girls for a while. And it’s nice to be showing it a little,” Potter said. “I don’t think people would say it’s a fluke, but it’s probably unexpected. But by next year, it won’t be.”

Under first-year head coach Lynne Roberts, Utah finds itself in a tie for fourth place with a 4-2 record. The Utes have won seven of their last nine games and have a 9-0 record at home, which works out nicely for a team about to embark on a five-game homestand.

Potter is a significant part of the reason why. With nine double-doubles this season, Potter, the Utes leading scorer and rebounder, is among the league leaders in eight different statistical categories.

She is:

• second in the Pac-12 (11th in NCAA) with 8.4 defensive rebounds per game.

• second in Pac-12 in blocked shots per game (2.5).

• second in the Pac-12 (11th in the NCAA) with 11.4 total rebounds per game.

• fourth in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage at 53.7 percent (110-205).

• fourth in the Pac-12 with nine double-doubles.

• ninth in the Pac-12 in scoring (16.4 ppg).

• tied for seventh in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding (3.0 orpg).

• 12th in the Pac-12 in free throw shooting at 66.7% (58-87) percent.

“She’s incredibly driven,” Roberts said of Potter. “That’s what adds to her talent level and what’s separating her.”

Potter had a promising freshman season two years ago, but spent what would have been her sophomore follow-up rehabilitating a torn ACL.

Potter said it was a stressful time, particularly as the Utes went through their coaching change.

“It was unchartered water for all of us, but I made rehab my focus,” Potter said.

Roberts said she knew she was inheriting a young post with a lot of upside.

“It took us a while to get to know each other on the court,” Roberts said, saying that the biggest surprise of the season was how quickly Potter lost the hesitancy that often comes from players who are coming back from a major injury.

“Sometimes it takes a while to get confidence back, but she didn’t have any of that,” Roberts said. “She had the drive to push through some mental barriers.”

Potter said she watched teammates recover from the same injury and drew inspiration from them.

“It sucks being off the court for a year, but I didn’t want to step out there and play tentatively,” Potter said.

Now she is adjusting to the double teams that come with being a dominant force inside.

“Some games I can get going earlier, and some games it’s been a little harder,” Potter said. “But I feel like I’m a veteran now, even if I still make some freshman mistakes once in a while.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. 

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