No Answers: Utah Women’s Basketball Surrenders Another Lead to USC

University+of+Utah+women%27s+basketball+player%2C+Niyah+Becker+%28%2314%29%2C+drives+to+the+rim+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, Niyah Becker (#14), drives to the rim 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

 

University of Utah head women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts is not happy. As the time ran down on yet another Utah loss that would lead the team to a 2-7 record at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, they fell 66-49 to USC. The team has only one home game remaining. Roberts could be seen on the bench hunched over, her head in her hands. Coach Roberts is asking the question that all humans must at one time or another ask: how do we reconcile with loss?

Do we ask how we got here? For the Utes, that question is answered by numbers. After holding a 33-29 lead going into halftime, part of the answer is that over the last half of basketball the Utes turned the ball over 12 times and USC converted on those chances. The Trojans scored 17 points off turnovers in the game.

The Utes also went 0-6 in the fourth quarter from the three-point range. The game was not always in this place though, as the Utes lead early.

First Quarter

The cliché is so often that basketball is a game of runs, an amalgamation of hot streaks and cold streaks. The Utes did not buck the cliché during Sunday’s game, as it was a game of early runs. The Utes went on a 12-6 run to start the first quarter, only to have that cut to 12-11, and then they traded blows with the Trojans until a final 21-17 first frame score emerged.

Brynna Maxwell’s hot-hand led the way with eight points in the quarter. Maxwell now averages around 6-8 in the first portion of games it seems, tends to slow down as the game goes on.

Of note in the first quarter lineup was once again Niyah Becker, who has become a full-time starter for the team as Dru Gylten continues to miss time.

Second Quarter

What the Utes laid out with a 33-29 lead going into half is quite simply the blueprint for what this basketball team should look to do the rest of the way and into next year. They need to play hard unrelenting defense, the kind that forces an opponent to shoot 29% or less, and they need to shoot a lot of threes and hope they occasionally go in so that they can keep the lead just 7-8 points out of reach of the opponent.

The Utes shot 5-12 in the first half and committed to occasionally grind out the points inside with Peyton McFarland and Becker. The Utes held a lead of between 5-7 points for most of the first half.

This is the recipe for success for the team. They have tried a lot of different things this year, but this is where they’re at their best — playing junkyard dog defense and relying on positive ball movement to open three-pointers for a team full of shooters.

Shooters Becker and Maxwell both posted 11 points in the first half. If you can consistently get that result, which is a big ask, the team will be a tough out for every opponent it faces.

Third Quarter

The issue with that style of basketball is of course, at some point, the threes will stop falling. This was the case for the Utes in the third as they went 1-6 from the arc and 3-15 from the floor. This has been the case with this team all year — what to blame it on remains a mystery, but something is seriously wrong. The Utes go on long arduous cold streaks that ruin the flow of the game and that put teams like USC in a position to take a 44-42 point lead into the final frame of the ball game.

It is not this article’s job to blame anybody, but it can be confidently said that now, with three games remaining in the season, the Utes do not shoot the basketball consistently and it hurts them. The problem exists, it has existed for months now and it has not been fixed.

Offensively for the Trojans, Alissa Pili bullied the Utes down low and specifically gave Kelsey Rees issues in defense. Pili put up six points in the frame.

Turnovers — another documented and consistent problem for the Utes — popped up again as a major issue in the third as the Utes turned the ball over nine times.

Fourth Quarter

The Utes never recovered in the fourth quarter. Positives are there, but positives only go so far. The facts are as follows: the Utes are 5-13, the trend is that they blow leads, turnovers are a problem, three-point shooting is inconsistent, but by and large, threes are the biggest parts of the offense.

Sure, the team is young and looking for growth, but growth requires consistency — something the Utes lack any semblance of at this moment, and Roberts isn’t finding any answers.

The Utes will go to Washington to take on Washington Friday at 8 p.m. MST, and Washington State Sunday at 1 p.m. MST. The season is wrapping up for the Utes, and after next weekend, they will only have one remaining game against Colorado at the Huntsman Center before heading to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament which will open on March 4.

 

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