Despite Struggles, Utah Women’s Basketball is Strong on Defense

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Utah Utes senior guard Danielle Rodriguez (22) puts up a good defense against the Oregon Beavers, Friday, January 22, 2016,(Mike Sheehan, Daily Utah Chronicle).

For a team that has lost its last two games and has struggled against conference competition in the Pac-12, it might not seem like the University of Utah women’s basketball team values defense. After starting a red hot 11-0, the Utes have cooled off considerably, posting a 3-9 record. But despite the struggles this team has had, one might be surprised to learn how good this team is on the defensive side of the ball.

The final score isn’t always indicative of how well or poorly a team plays. Sometimes a blowout victory or loss can shed some light on a team’s effort on any given night. But for the most part, the Utes have been a defensive juggernaut for most of the season.

So far this season, the Utes are ranked first in the Pac-12 in blocks per game and sit fifth in the conference in their scoring defense. Although that number may sound pedestrian, it is to be taken with a grain of salt. The Utes have given up just 62 points per game against, arguably, the best basketball conference in the nation. In fact, of all the games the Utes have played thus far, the ladies in red have held opposing teams to that number — or below — 13 times.

Defensive effort is just that — effort. Head coach Lynne Roberts spoke about one aspect of her team’s defensive effort — rebounding.

“Everywhere I’ve coached, rebounding has been a focal point,” Roberts said. “Rebounding is desire, toughness, physicality. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 foot 2 inches or 7 foot 2 inches, you can do those things. For me, rebounding is non-negotiable. It’s completely controllable for a player.”

In the rebounding category, the Utes outperform their competition by 4 boards on average. This is an important metric in a conference that boasts the nation’s leading rebounder. When the Utes perform better on the boards, they have a convincing 11-2 record. When the opposing team out-rebounds Utah, their record drops to 2-7.

This is a team built on rock solid defense. While the Utes probably won’t blow out opposing teams — their field goal percentage ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12 — this is a team built on grit and grind. This is a team that is built to force teams to play physical each and every game.

It isn’t easy to score on the Utes. While several teams have had impressive showings, the Utes have held nearly all these teams to below their scoring averages on the season. They allow opposing teams to connect on just 36 percent of their shots. Trying to hit a three pointer is even more difficult against this team — they allow just 28 percent from deep. Head coach Roberts mentioned that this season, the Utah basketball team is trying to build culture.

“I want to be hard to play,” Roberts said. “Win or lose, I want the other team to walk off the court exhausted and say that Utah is really tough. I want other teams to think that we’re tough to beat and that Utah is a really tough place to play.”

All this is to say that in spite of their struggles, this is a team to get excited about. With great defense, effort, hustle, grit and grind, the women’s basketball team is the one to watch.

j.walch@dailyutahchronicle.com

@JaredWalch

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