For the first time since joining the Pac-12 conference, the University of Utah women’s basketball team won back-to-back road games. The team comfortably defeated the University of Washington on Friday, 74-65 before coming back from being down 13 points to beat Washington State on Sunday. Head coach Lynne Roberts took plenty away from the victories, especially team improvements on as they continue forward in conference play.
“I thought we played pretty dang well at Washington on Friday,” Roberts said. “I think we were up by around 30 at some point and then we kind of just relaxed a little bit and didn’t have a great fourth quarter, so we have to continue to learn to finish games. Sunday, we just were not the best version of ourselves, at all. We were down 13 with three minutes to go in the third quarter, and I am just proud of our team on finding a way to win and just showing that toughness.”
Provo making strides
Ever since stepping onto the court for the Utes this season, junior Daneesha Provo has made her presence known. Whether it was a key shot down the stretch or providing quality minutes off the bench, Provo was consistent for the team during nonconference play. Once league action began, another gear clicked for Provo, who scored a career-high 24 points against Arizona. She has taken over as the primary source of offense for the Utah team that has seen its offensive production increase by over 10 points per game from last season.
In the early going, Provo is averaging 21 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in conference play. She is currently ranked 2nd in the Pac-12 in scoring, and she is tied for 7th place in field goal percentage.
Provo began conference play by coming off the bench. She was thrust into action when Tori Williams suffered an ankle injury within one minute of play during the Arizona game. She’s had a spot in the starting lineup ever since.
“She is playing great. It hasn’t just been in conference though, she has been playing really well all season long,” Roberts said. “I think her production has been up some because of that, but she is also just playing confidently. She has kind of a poise about her that she hasn’t shown in previous seasons. She is just a junior and sometimes it takes players a little bit longer, but she is shooting the ball really well, making good decisions and not turning it over.”
Third year’s a charm
With half a second remaining in Sunday’s contest against Washington State, Tilar Clark stepped up to the free throw line with a chance to put the Utes up by two points. Backtrack 50 seconds earlier, and she had just committed the biggest turnover of the game, which allowed the Cougars to tie the game up at 79. Clark ended up hitting both free throws and Utah escaped with the narrow win. The sequence of events was a microcosm of what Roberts believes makes this year’s team special.
“It was a good encapsulation of what you have to do sometimes,” Roberts said. “Things might not be going great for you or the team, but just hang in there and give yourselves a chance to win.”
Roberts attributes the mentality that the team has taken on this year to a shift in the culture that she and her coaching staff are establishing.
“As a staff, this is our third year here, so we are still changing the culture to make it how we want it to be,” Roberts said. “This is my 16th year as a head coach, and one of the things I always mandate with my teams is that physical and mental toughness. That is coming into place. By year three, that is when culture starts to set in, and I think we are just a little bit tougher.”