New Talent and Returning Stars: 2020-21 Women’s Basketball



University of Utah Utes Women’s Basketball Team Wing Niyah Becker (14) scores during an NCAA Basketball match vs. the Eastern Washington Eagles at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (Photo by Abu Asib | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Carlos Padilla and Eric Jensen


The University of Utah Women’s basketball team is about to embark on the most challenging season in recorded school history, and the coronavirus pandemic has been the primary catalyst that will make this season such a unique challenge.

“This has been a very strange time to be involved in just about anything,” head coach Lynne Roberts said in her opening press conference earlier this fall.

Roberts added that there is no specific game plan for a season like this — besides being flexible. Brynna Maxwell, a sophomore and the team’s leading scorer, said that the point of being flexible was hammered home by coach Roberts in the team’s practices this fall.

“Roll with the punches; the most flexible teams will succeed,” Maxwell said.

Rolling with those punches includes bi-weekly COVID-19 testing, early mornings for a team that must arrive at 7 a.m. each morning to be tested, traveling differently, wearing face masks and being extra careful off the basketball court.

“COVID makes it a lot different, a lot tougher whether that’s getting up earlier to do testing and what we do when we are not in practice has changed a lot as well. You have to be really careful about hanging out with people outside of the team and making sure they haven’t come in contact with anyone with the virus,” said freshman guard Kennady McQueen.

Outside of COVID-19, there is unlimited optimism out of Utah’s camp right now. Coach Lynne Roberts believes this is easily the best teams she’s had in terms of the Pac-12 in her now six-year tenure at the University of Utah.

“This will be our deepest team. We have the most weapons. We’re long, athletic, and very, very skilled,” Roberts said.

Maxwell, who averaged 13 points per game last season, shares Robert’s optimism about the team. “The team looks really good. Our returners look really solid. We have a couple of newcomers that are fitting right in with a hop skip and a beat, we are rolling,” Maxwell said.

The optimism is not unfounded. Most of the team’s leading scorers from last year have returned — including forward Lola Pendande, guard Maxwell and guard Dru Gylten. The team has also made some major additions in sophomore Kennady McQueen, who, if you read between the lines of Roberts’ comments, seems like a lock to see significant minutes this year.

Roberts has often raved about McQueen this offseason — Roberts has praised her as an incredibly hard worker and a player that she desperately wanted to get the chance to coach.

“Kennady is so fun to coach. She’s just a competitor.” Roberts said. “Kieth Van Horn — her coach in high school — he told me, you will regret it if you don’t coach her.” Roberts later said, “She looks good, and she’s going to play.”

Lola Pendande believes these are some of the most talented freshmen she has ever played with. Saying that she has been impressed by every single one of them throughout the camp. “We’ve got a pretty good team this year. We have new players this year, but they do the work, and they’re impressive,” Pendande said.

To describe this year’s team, Pendade said that they are “ambitious, passionate, competitive.”

The Utes are a team with lofty goals this year. They expect to finish within the top half of the Pac-12 and make the NCAA women’s Tournament.

“The goal for us is to make the NCAA tournament. Win the games we are supposed to win and have a couple of upsets, and I think we can get there,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell added that despite having a losing record last year in a challenging season, she thinks the team made significant strides throughout the year and ultimately came out of it better.

“We were very young last year, and it was a great learning year. We figured out what the identity of the team was and what we could all contribute. This year we took that in stride,” Maxwell said.

Awaiting the Utes in their quest to the tournament, perennial Pac-12 powers will challenge the young team. UCLA, Stanford and Oregon are expected to continue their dominant seasons from last year. To achieve their dreams of punching a ticket to the tournament, the eighth-place Utes will have to make good on the promise shown in the preseason.

As tipoff comes closer, murmurs have begun to circulate about who will be the starting five for the Utes. From the returners and promising new talents, do not be surprised to see Kennady McQueen, Brynna Maxwell, Lola Pendande, Andrea Torres and Zuzanna Puc first to check-in.

With the season opener looming ever nearer, it is time for Ute Women’s basketball fans to get excited. From what players, coaches and analysts say, the 2020-21 season could be the year of a deep tournament run.

Only time will tell, but Utah looks to have a roster of returning starters and several new additions that should make them a tough team out in the Pac-12 this season.


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