A Young Team and High Hopes with U Women’s Basketball

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A Young Team and High Hopes with U Women’s Basketball

By Casey Overfield

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The University of Utah women’s basketball team is preparing for their 2019-20 campaign and they have a strong platform for success. 

The Utes are welcoming back a core of returning players, as well as a strong incoming class to their roster, and these players, along with their coaches, all share a similar goal ⁠— to win. 

The Utes wrapped up their 2018-19 season with an overall record of 20-10 and a conference record of 9-9, landing them at sixth in the Pac-12. Utah started off their season by winning 13 straight games before they were finally defeated in conference play to Arizona State University.  

At the end of their season, the Utes said goodbye to two key players, Erika Bean and Megan Huff. Huff was drafted into the WNBA to play for the New York Liberty. After some practice time in New York, Huff is now playing abroad in Latvia. 

Utah hosted Westminster College at the end of October in their annual exhibition game, and they took an 88-58 victory. Not only did the returning players have a chance to shine in the Jon M. Huntsman Center once again, but the new core of athletes were also able to make a name for themselves before the official start of the season. 

 

Who’s Who

Although they lost some key starters, the Utes are returning a number of players, including seniors Kiana Moore and Daneesha Provo, sophomores Dru Gylten, Andrea Torres, Niyah Becker and redshirt sophomore Maurane Corbin. 

Moore ended last season with her name on the Pac-12 All-Defense honorable mention list, and she played in every game during the season. She was third in the conference with a .398 shooting percentage, as well as averaging 9.2 points per game. She has led the team on the court during her time with the Utes and all signs point to yet another successful season. 

Provo is returning to the team after sitting out for most of last season with an injury. She is a redshirt senior who missed out on a record-setting senior year in the 2018-19 season. Before the abrupt end to her season, Provo had started in every game and was ranked No. 10 in the conference for field goal percentage. 

Returning for her second year with the team is Gylten, an All-Freshman athlete who led the team with 5.5 assists per game. She was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week twice last season and she regularly scored upwards of 10 points in games. Gylten has the athleticism to lead the team, even as a young player.  

Two other players who are entering their second year with the team are Becker and Torres. Becker saw playing time in every game and averaged 2.2 rebounds per game. Torres was a Pac-12 All-Freshman honorable mention player last season and she averaged 5.7 points per game.  

Corbin is a redshirt sophomore who is returning to the court after sitting out last season due to an injury. In her freshman year, she started in 31 games and shot 52% on the season. She is looking to make a full comeback to success this year.

Some of the new faces on the team are Lola Pendande; Kemery Martin, a five-star recruit; and Brynna Maxwell, a four-star recruit. 

Maxwell comes from Gig Harbor, Washington, where she was named the 3A State Player of the Year at her high school and received other local awards for her athleticism. 

Martin is a local player from Sandy, Utah, where she was a four-time all-state player, as well as the Gatorade Player of the Year, in addition to other honors during her time in high school. 

“Kemery Martin is a talent,” Roberts said. “Having her and Dru in the backcourt for three years is pretty exciting. Kemery brings the passing but also the shooting. Kem can really shoot and Dru can shoot.”

Pendande comes to the U from Almeria, Spain. She attended high school in Los Angeles where she was named the John R. Wooden Southern California High School Player of the Year as well as being named to the CIF Southern Section all-open division team. 

“She [Lola] has been playing internationally in the summers for years, and it shows,” Roberts said. “She has played so many games, she has been coached by so many people. Every national team has a different coach as well as every professional team she has played for. As an amateur, she plays on these teams with grown women, and that has impacted her. She sees things instinctively that most freshmen don’t. She is physically bigger, faster and stronger than most other freshmen.”

Utah has put together a strong team with a wide variety of players who are both knowledgeable and confident on the court with extensive experience playing the game. This will take the team far during their season. 

“I think our shooting, as good as it was last year, is better this year,” Roberts said. 

 

The Competition

At the beginning of the season, there are currently five ranked teams in the Pac-12, including No. 1-ranked Oregon, who was second in the conference last year and ended their season in the final four of the NCAA tournament. Rounding out the top 10 are No. 3 Stanford and No. 7 Oregon State. UCLA comes in close behind at No. 11, and Arizona State is No. 20 in the preseason polls.

“The Pac-12, it is what it is. It is the best conference, and every weekend you’re going to play at least one top-20 team, and sometimes two,” Roberts said. “It’s just big girl basketball. No one is going to go undefeated.”

Last season, the Utes beat only one of these teams when they upset Stanford ⁠— who was ranked No. 6 at the time ⁠—with a score of 75-68. 

The Utes have the potential to start out strong, and their biggest challenge will be to keep the ball rolling once they hit conference play later in the year. 

“I anticipate us to have a good strong start to the season,” Roberts said. “We are young, and my experience has been with youth, you can kind of take some learning lessons early, but  I would rather be our best in March than in November.”

 

Coach Roberts

The Utes will once again be led by head coach Lynne Roberts, who has been with the program since 2015. Now entering her fifth season with the team, Roberts has turned the program around and is now looking to see some big results from a team that certainly has the potential for success.  

“One of the staples of my program is uptempo. I thought we scored in transition well. We were a better half-court team, we were a better defensive team than we had been in the past. We are going to build on all of those things,” Roberts said. “We have a lot of new faces but the system, the program, the way we do things doesn’t change. We had good balance on the floor — we could shoot both inside and outside, we were unselfish and we could pass well. Out points per possession were third in the Pac-12, our shooting percentage was second in the Pac-12. Offensively, we were very good and I think we are going to build on that. I think we’ve got more pieces this year to take another step forward.”

Roberts has some big goals for the team, and she has the tools to achieve them, including a strong coaching staff and motivated players who are looking to see a better outcome to their season than they did last year — their fast start was silenced once they entered into conference play. 

Although they are operating with a young roster, Roberts is not worried. She trusts her staff to coach and develop the players to perform the best that they can during the upcoming season. 

“I think at Utah, recruiting-wise, we have to develop the players. A lot of the times, it’s three-star, four-star guys that you have to just develop. If they have that competitive mindset to prove people wrong, then player development isn’t that hard when they have the motor,” Roberts said. “Our staff do[es] an amazing job of player development. Every kid gets one on one coaching, and if they want to get in the gym, there will be a coach in there helping them.”

 

Looking Forward

Utah will kick off their season on the road in Cincinnati, Ohio, where they will play both Cincinnati and Xavier. They will come back to Salt Lake City on Nov. 16 for their home opener against South Dakota followed by a game against Eastern Washington two days later.

The annual Deseret Duel will take place on Nov. 29 in Provo, Utah against in-state rivals Brigham Young University.

The Utes will remain in preseason play until Dec. 29, when they kick off Pac-12 play against Colorado at home. 

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@CaseyOverfield