Utah Women’s Basketball To Host No. 1 Stanford and Cal

University+of+Utah+women%27s+basketball+player%2C+Kemery+Martin+%28%2315%29%2C+takes+a+shot+in+the+game+against+the+University+of+Arizona+in+the+Jon+M.+Huntsman+center+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Dec.+20%2C+2020.+%28Photo+by+Jack+Gambassi+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29

University of Utah women’s basketball player, Kemery Martin (#15), takes a shot in the game against the University of Arizona in the Jon M. Huntsman center in Salt Lake City on Dec. 20, 2020. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Eric Jensen, Sports Writer

 

The University of Utah women’s basketball team’s weekend in Southern California did not go as planned, starting with a last-second loss against USC 60-59 and then falling to UCLA 92-67, a game in which Utah shot a season high 45% from 3-point range but only got up seven deep shots.

The Utes now return home to face their toughest task yet, No. 1 Stanford. Not just number one in the Pac-12, but the best team in the country, Stanford. 10-0 vs 3-7, the Utes have their work cut out for them.

Our women’s basketball team will not just lie down, though. They are well coached, and, listening to head coach Lynne Roberts speak on Wednesday, they are “pissed off” and ready to take on the challenge of Stanford, the best team in the nation.

What is working for the Utes:

Utah ranks in the top half of the Pac-12 in terms of steals. They have 92 on the year and are averaging 9.2 steals per game. The Utes have been very good at getting in the passing lanes and forcing turnovers. Andrea Torres (12 steals), Dru Gylten (17), and Brynna Maxwell (18) have all been especially good at getting the ball from the other team. That is what has kept most of Utah’s games close.

In their past five losses, Utah has only lost by more than 10 points twice. Shooting has improved over the past few games as well. Utah is shooting better than their season average of 31% from three recently. The past three games, the Utes have shot an average of 39% from the 3-point line. The looks have gotten better and Brynna Maxwell specifically has found her stroke again.

What is going wrong:

The Utes have a tendency to give up runs. It is as simple as that, in the past four of five games the Utes have given up at least one 10-0 run at some point in the game. Basketball is a game of runs and head coach Lynne Roberts points out, correctly, that the Utes usually wake up — but most of the time it’s too late.

“We get down big and then it’s like someone throws water in our face and we wake up a bit and fight back,” Roberts said in a post-game press conference earlier this year.

When things start going badly for the Utes, they tend to go very badly. These are not just 10-0 runs they give up. Against Arizona State, the Utes gave up a 19-7 run that really lost them the game.

If the Utes want to stay competitive against Stanford on Friday and Cal on Sunday, they need to find a way to stop runs more effectively. The offense is working relatively well right now.

Scouting reports:

Stanford is the number one team in the country for a reason. They boast five players that average double digit scoring.

Haley Jones leads the team, averaging 15 points per game and followed by Francesca Belibi and Kiana Williams, both averaging 12 points per game. Stanford has scorers all over the court and players that can hurt you from anywhere.

The team shoots 34% from 3 and boasts a perimeter defense that has held teams to 28% from 3, a stat that doesn’t bode well for Utah — who has struggled against good perimeter defense even though they haven’t seen anyone like Stanford yet.

Cal is the worst team in the Pac-12. 0-10 on the year, not a single win to their name. Cal shoots a putrid 16% from the 3-point range. They also shoot just 33% from the field. Leading scorer Alma Elsnitz averages an impressive 14 points per game, but one player is simply not enough. At 3-7, Utah won’t be looking past anyone. Losing this game would be the low point of what is turning into a lackluster season.

There is still time to turn things around, though. The Utes have plenty of games left. Unfortunately, the schedule gets no easier as the Utes travel to the Arizona schools next week.

What coach has to say:

On the week in Southern California:

“Kind of a tough week for us. We controlled the game, then we got sloppy and gave up a 10-0 run, fought ourselves back into it. Brynna Maxwell had a shot to win it. I’ll take that every time she makes it 9-10 times — just happened to miss this one.”

“We went to UCLA and had just a horrendous first quarter. No excuses, it was bad. Played well rest of the game but damage was done.”

On the quick turnaround:

“This league, there is no mercy, but that’s what they signed up for. That’s why you committed to play here, you gotta keep swinging.”

On Stanford:

“They are the best team in the nation for a reason, it is not a pre-season thing. They have proven it. At this point, every week we play somebody in the top ten. The [Utah] team is pissed off that we lost and pissed off we didn’t play better. Nobody is feeling sorry for themselves.”

On better 3-point shooting:

“I think part of it is our shooters are adjusting to how they are being played. Brynna Maxwell is not surprising anyone any more, she gets defended by the other team’s best defender every game. It took her a while to figure out how to get her shots off with such pressure and physicality, and she is figuring it out. Offenses get better with the more games they play, and ours certainly has so I think it’s a combination of all those things.”

On growth within the team:

“Our leading scorers are sophomores… it takes time to adapt and now they are adapting. I have said I think this is our best shooting team, potentially, they have the potential to get there. Now it is just a matter of me putting them in situations to get good shots. Shooting percentage directly correlates to execution and the type of shots you are getting.”

On Peyton McFarland missing time over the past few games:

“She’s doing better. Not much I can say publicly, but she is doing better. She’s getting back in shape as she was shut down for a little while, but it was not COVID-19 related. She’s healthy, cleared and ready to go and a big part of our future success. Her rebounding and defense have been good, and she’s a lot further along than we expected.”

Where to watch:

The Utes will face-off versus Stanford on Friday, Jan. 15 at 1:30 p.m. MST. The game versus Cal will be on Sunday, Jan. 17 at noon MST. Both games will be on Pac-12 Networks as well as EPSN700.

 

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@Eric18utah