Utah Women’s Basketball’s Lynne Roberts Turns the Page to 2021


Head Coach Lynne Roberts closes her eyes as the Lady Utes loose to the Colorado Buffalos at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake, UT on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018(Photo by Adam Fondren | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Eric Jensen, Sports Writer


Six months ago, after a disappointing season that saw the University of Utah women’s basketball team finish 5-16, head coach Lynne Roberts sat in a media session. She was asked the following question:

“From this nightmare season, what exactly have you learned?”

Roberts sat pensively. She squirmed in her seat a bit and eventually sighed, responding more or less with: “I’m not really sure.”

Now, six months later, when asked the same questions, Roberts has an answer.

“Two things; one, we’ve got to get better defensively, a lot better defensively. And two, we need to stop turning the ball over. Those are the two areas where we have to get better. That’s what we’re hammering,” said Roberts.

The defense was a major concern for the team last year. The Utes averaged 60 points per game last year while giving up 70 per contest. The math doesn’t work out. If you give up more than you score, then you are going to lose a lot of basketball games.

“I promise you, we are going to be better defensively,” said Roberts.

So what did the Utes do to get better defensively this year?

Well for one they went and got a premier perimeter defender from Big 12 program Texas Tech. Maka Jackson will look to make a major impact in year one and Roberts is excited about her addition to the team.

Roberts was non-committal on a starting lineup.

“I keep waiting for it to separate every day, and it just doesn’t.”

You can read into that one of two ways: the way Roberts views it, where she says this is the deepest team she has ever coached, or the way an outside concerned third party might view it, as a team that is still very day-to-day just a week ahead of its first game of the season. Dealers’ choice. The team does look deep on paper.

A speculative night one starting lineup might look something like: Dru Gylten, Brynna Maxwell, Kennady McQueen, Andrea Torres and Peyton McFarland.

Roberts was effusive in her praise for McQueen.

“She’s playing at a very high level and shooting the ball at a very high level in scrimmage. It’s one thing to kill a shooting drill, it’s another to kill it in live play, and we practice every day with a live defense of our college guys practice squad, and these guys are strong and athletic and she’s just crushing it, and her defense has been disruptive,” said Roberts.

McQueen showed real flashes in her play in 2020 but lacked consistency in her ability to post offensive numbers.

If she can evolve into a 10-14 point per game player it would be a real feather in the cap of a Utes team that often only produced one scoring option per game in 2020.

The best teams in the conference right now, according to Coach Roberts, are Stanford, Oregon and UCLA. It is the best conference in the country, still, she reiterates.

If you look at those top three teams, the constant for them is that they have at least three players that provide 11 or more points per game.

If the Utes can develop that kind of offensive consistency and pair it with good defense and controlled turnover numbers, March Madness is in the picture for this team.

The league will have between six and nine bids for the tournament in March. If Utah can reach the attainable goal of finishing within the top six of the league and win a game or two in the Pac-12 tournament, they should be in the mix for March.

There is outside noise and pressure about a winning season. When asked if she feels that pressure, Roberts’ answer was a firm no.

“No one puts higher expectations on me than I do for myself,” said Roberts.

“Pressure doesn’t do much for me. No one wants to win more than I do. You don’t really get to this level caring what other people think,” said Roberts as she continued.

She reiterated that her focus is on her team and nothing else.

There is pressure from the outside looking in, though, for the Utes to improve. A five-win season in a COVID year can be brushed aside and called for what it was, a tough season, but especially with things getting back to normal the Utes need to make tangible forward progress.

That would mean a top-half finish in league play, and discussions about bubble relevancy into late February.

It will be a challenge, but Roberts believes this is her deepest team ever and that she has made the roster changes needed for her team to make a massive jump forward, from five wins to a tournament team. For that kind of jump, you need confidence in the process.

Roberts has that confidence. The team has that confidence. Half of success in basketball is playing, and proceeding, with extreme confidence.

The Utes tip off their season at the Jon M. Huntsman center in an exhibition match with Westminster College at 7 p.m. MDT on Friday, Oct. 29. View the rest of the Utes’ schedule, here.


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