SALT LAKE CITY — The Lady Runnin’ Utes went 9-21 in 2014, winning just three conference games in the process. So, began the process. Utah admins hired Lynne Roberts the following offseason, a coach with a proven track record of turning struggling programs around. It’s paid dividends so far, but the Utes still have unfinished business.
Head coach @UtesCoachRob tips off @UTAHWBB Media Day. pic.twitter.com/Lau0MSZU1A
— ESPN 700 (@ESPN700) October 15, 2018
“This is the start of my fourth year with the program. I feel like our culture is in a great place and our team is on the climb. This is the fun part of growing a program because you feel like things are starting to stick. We are excited about the year. We know that it is going to be challenging, the Pac-12 always is. We have some great teams and great players in this league, so we just have to keep climbing.”
Utah finished the 2017-18 season a pedestrian 18-14(8-10conf.), but their overall record doesn’t tell the whole story. If you attended any games in the Huntsman Center last season, you would’ve noticed a considerable improvement in team morale and fight. With this new culture, the Utes established themselves as a legitimate Pac-12 competitor early on. Utah started conference play 4-0, beat a ranked team on the road and came within two late-season overtime losses of a possible NCAA Tournament birth. Turning attention towards 2018-19, Coach Roberts is hoping to avoid complacency and continue this upward trend.
The Utes lose a lot of contributors from last season and only have four seniors on the roster. Inexperience, though, doesn’t seem to be much of a concern for Roberts as she leans on her leaders to help the younger players along.
– Seniors Megan Huff(L) and Daneesha Provo. –
“Our seniors include a graduate transfer from UC Santa Barbara in Sarah Porter. She is a great shooter and will fill a need there. She has played a lot of basketball because she played her first year at Ole Miss and played the last few at Santa Barbara. Erika Bean is back and I have kind of seen a shift in her in terms of leadership and command. We are going to need every bit of that and a little bit more with how much youth we have on the team. Then we have Megan Huff and Daneesha Provo. They were our two leading scorers last year and we are going to need the same thing from them this year. The difference from last year is that there is no secret. They aren’t going to be able to slide into any games and not be the highlight on anyone’s scouting report. Last year, maybe Emily Potter was the one keyed in on in scouting reports and that allowed Huff to do what she is really good at. This year, teams are going to be trying to stop them and that is more challenging as a player.”
While not sure how much they’ll be able to contribute early on, Roberts is optimistic for the future of the underclassmen as well:
“We have some freshmen that are very talented and were highly recruited. They have good size and a lot of athleticism, but at the end of the day they are still freshmen. Ideally, maybe you give them time to develop and learn, but they are going to learn from being thrown in the deep end. We are going to need them to play and figure out how to swim. They are talented though, they are hungry and they are doing well. They are just going to have to accelerate their learning curve quickly.”
Picked to finish 8th in the Pac-12’s preseason media poll serves the Utes well… they don’t mind flying under the radar.
“I talked to the team about this too, but people always ask where are you going to get picked and my first answer is always – I don’t care,” Roberts said. “I know coaches always say that but it is pretty true with me. What happened last year has no effect on what happens this year, for any team. I thought going in, if I had to guess, I figured we would get picked in the middle third and we did. I think that is probably fair coming off last year. Now we are just in the business of leapfrogging some teams. We finish in the top-half of this league and we are going to the NCAA Tournament, so that is the goal. It is a process. You keep getting better and better every year.”
Coming off their third straight postseason appearance, returning two-thirds of their top three scorers and under the direction of Roberts, the Utes should be a tough out for Pac-12 opponents in 2018-19 – especially in the Huntsman Center.
The season tips off this Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 7p.m. with the annual ‘Night with the Utes.’