Pac-12 women's basketball roundup: Unselfish Utes rolling, UCLA wins Battle 4 Atlantis
So let’s talk about those 124 points. The Utah Utes putting up the most points in program history last week in a 124-78 win over then-No. 16 Oklahoma. A ranked opponent. An eye-popping performance.
And now Utah, coming off Monday night’s 93-86 win over Alabama in the Bahamas at the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship, is 5-0 and has climbed eight spots in the Associated Press poll to No. 17. Utah is second in the nation in scoring at 100.2 points a game, and leads the country in assists at 23.6 per game.
To say things are clicking for Utah would be underselling.
“It’s awesome and we are doing a good job,” said Utah head coach Lynne Roberts, whose team has scored at least 80 points in 22 games since the 2019-20 season. They are 20-2 in those games. “There is a lot that goes into it. We’ve got a system that everyone has bought into, people know what kind of shots they are going to get and everybody on the floor can shoot and it spreads out the defense.”
Five players are currently averaging double figures, led by USC transfer Alissa Pili, the 2020 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Pili is averaging 18.0 points a game, shooting 70.9 percent from the floor.
“She is a difference maker, she just is,” Roberts said. “You can’t help off of her and she’s a tremendous passer.”
Pili is opening the floor for Utah’s core group of sharpshooters, including the 2022 Freshman of the Year Gianna Kneepkens, who is averaging 15.8 points a game. Sophomores Kennady McQueen and Jenna Johnson are averaging 14.0 and 13.6 points a game, respectively.
“Add all of that together and we are playing at a high tempo and we are willing to share the ball,” Roberts said.
That unselfishness is turning the Utes into a scoring machine.
“We aren’t playing 1-on-1 basketball. It’s kick, screen, make the extra pass and it’s a lot more fun,” Roberts said.
Following a season in which the Utes reached the Pac-12 Tournament title game and the NCAA Tournament, this is the kind of heady start that could overwhelm a team mentally.
“We make an effort to stay in the moment,” Roberts said. “Scoring 124 points against Oklahoma was great and we celebrate that, but we can still get better.”
Even beating Alabama, a game in which they were down by double-digits and by four points at the half, was an even-keel experience for the Utes.
“There isn’t a lot of emotional reaction,” Roberts said. “It’s a long season and we’ve got some hard games ahead. We are trying to stay consistent. We need to see what we are made of. These games are good for us.”
The Bruins had a pretty good trip to the Bahamas themselves, winning the Battle 4 Atlantis with an overtime victory over Marquette on Monday to move to 6-0.
Earlier in the day, UCLA assumed the No. 20 spot in the AP poll after impressive wins over South Dakota State and then-No. 11 Tennessee. It is UCLA’s first appearance in the AP poll this season.
The Marquette win is a big one considering that Marquette had already beaten then-No. 3 Texas and Gonzaga in the tournament.
Senior Charisma Osborne, the Pac-12 Player of the Week, was named tournament MVP, and freshman Kiki Rice was named to the all-tournament team.
Support for Griner
With support from the WNBA Players’ Association, Stanford and South Carolina used their nationally-televised game on Sunday to recognize the plight of Brittney Griner, the star center who has been incarcerated in Russia since February. The U.S. government considers Griner to be “wrongfully detained” on drug charges. She was sentenced to nine years in prison, had her appeal denied several weeks ago and has been transferred to a Russian prison camp while the government attempts to negotiate for her return.
The WNBAPA provided shirts to coaches Tara VanDerveer and Dawn Staley to wear during the game and a tribute to Griner played on the video screen above the court before the game. A table on the concourse allowed fans and some of the players to write letters of support to Griner. Both coaches acknowledged Griner after a hard-fought overtime game in which top-ranked South Carolina came away with a 76-71 victory. The Cardinal has a patch recognizing Griner on their jerseys and has had a moment of silence for Griner at every home game.
Staley credit VanDerveer for “leading the campaign” at Stanford.
“We both know Brittney. She’s part of our basketball family and she’s in a fight for her life,” Staley said. “I know there are other Americans that are wrongly detained and obviously we want them all to come home, but when you have a relationship and a friendship with someone, it’s personal.”
VanDerveer said she is hoping that someone that hears the information about Griner might be able to help.
“We wanted to bring attention to the situation that is just so hard for her to deal with,” VanDerveer said. “Maybe there's someone in the stands that can help. We need to bring her home.”