Utah women's basketball hoping to take next step after NCAA Tournament appearance
SAN FRANCISCO — Utah women's basketball head coach Lynne Roberts opened her media session talking about the moments after her team’s second-round NCAA loss to Texas in Austin, last spring.
She wanted them to keep perspective about what they accomplished, reaching the Pac-12 Tournament title game for the first time, making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than a decade, winning a first-round game against an SEC opponent.
What she got in response were blank faces.
“They were ticked off, they were not just happy to be there,” Roberts said. “And that is really, really good.”
Six months later, Utah will sneak up on no one, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12. A team with no seniors features a lot of young talent, including reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Gianna Kneepkens, Jenna Johnson and Kennady McQueen — all sophomores. Alissa Pili transferred from USC to give them more punch inside.
“I think we lean into the expectations. We want that,” Roberts said. “We don't want to always be overachieving, right. So I'm thrilled that we're making those steps, but we still haven't arrived. We're still very much the hunters.”
Roberts used the defending champion Cardinal as her marking point for consistency and excellence.
“That’s the level I want to get to,” Roberts said.
Kneepkens believes the Utes are in a great position.
“We were super motivated this past summer,” Kneepkens said. “It’s not just talking about March, but how do we get better and build off of what we did last year.”
Kneepkens said she believes this team is “definitely better” because of its experience.
“Last year a lot of us hadn't been in a position of making it -- actually none of us had been in the position of making it to the Pac-12 Championship, making it to the NCAA Tournament, so I'd say experience is definitely going to help us,” she said.
Utah was the best offense in the Pac-12 last season, and now the focus is on the defensive end.
“To take the next step, we've got to get better defensively. That's the reality,” Roberts said. “So how can we create more chances for ourselves to get the ball because we score it at a pretty high clip, so how can we create more turnovers, and that's what we are working on right now.”