Utah Women’s Basketball Look To Rebound from Difficult 2021 Season


Jack Gambassi

University of Utah women’s basketball player, Dru Gylten (10), talks to teammates Andrea Torres (3), Kemery Martin (15), and Brynna Maxwell (11), in the game against Arizona State University in the Jon M. Huntsman center in Salt Lake City on Dec. 18, 2020. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brian Preece, Sports Writer


In early April, the Stanford Cardinal overcame a surprise Arizona Wildcat team to win the NCAA women’s basketball national championship. It marked the third title for Tara VanDerveer’s Stanford team and an all Pac-12 final solidified the conference as the cream of the women’s basketball crop.

Meanwhile, the University of Utah women’s basketball team, coming off of a disjointed and disappointing 5-16 finish in 2020-21, has got nowhere to go but up.

For head coach Lynne Roberts, the underwhelming season forced her to take a step back and reconsider her approach

“We are coming off of a bad year. Sometimes that forces you to evaluate everything,” Roberts said at Pac-12 media days last month. 

With seven returning players, the Utes added three freshmen, guard Inês Vieira, guard Gianna Kneepkens and forward Jenna Johnson.

Utah also brought in some experienced transfers with guard Maka Jackson trading the black and red of Texas Tech for Ute red and white, forward Dasia Young bringing her 45 career-starts at UT-Martin and guard Isabel Palmer looking to make an impact on the program after transferring from the University of Texas prior to last season. 

“[I’m] getting out there and helping my teammates with experience that I have from international play and a few years of college basketball under my belt,” Palmer said.

Last year, six Pac-12 teams advanced to the NCAA tournament, leaving six others out of the dance. In a conference that could realistically see 8-10 teams making waves on the national scene in March, the Utes have their work cut out for them. 

Utah has not advanced to postseason play since a second round appearance in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament in 2018 and have not participated in March Madness for 11 seasons, when longtime head coach Elaine Elliot was at the helm.

“We wanna get this program as good as we can and move up in those rankings and in the Pac-12,” senior point guard Dru Gylten said of the team’s goals. She continued, “Being in the top half of the Pac-12, and of course everyone’s goal is to make the tournament, March Madness is definitely our goal.”

In order to reach their postseason goals, the Utes are depending on production from several sources. Roberts mentioned Young as a player to keep an eye on and also spoke highly of freshman Vieira.

Inês Vieira is probably the fastest player I’ve ever coached,” Roberts said.

Utah will also lean heavily on a couple of players already garnering preseason national recognition. Junior guard Brynna Maxwell and Gylten were voted Preseason Pac-12 All-Conference honorable mention while Gylten was also named one of 20 point guards nationwide to the 2022 Nancy Lieberman Award Watch list.

This is the second time Gylten has been noticed by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association for her leadership both on and off the court. Known as both the mother and grandmother to this Utah team, Gylten spoke about her leadership role.

“Here at the U, I was starting as a freshman and forced into a leadership role that freshmen don’t usually have,” Gylten stated. “From high school, playing as a freshman and winning four state championships, I have always been in leadership positions and it’s super natural to me.” 

The Utes’ strength lies with the guard-line but Roberts is going to ask a lot from her undersized team when compared to the rest of the conference. Rebounding and limiting turnovers have been a focus in preseason practices, and Roberts hopes those core tenets will lead the Utes to where they want to go.

Utah is scheduled for an exhibition match, 11 non-conference games and 18 conference matchups, with the regular season set to conclude on Saturday, Feb. 26 before heading down to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament.

The Utes begin their season at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Wednesday, Nov. 10 against Lipscomb State. Watch the Utes all season long here, listen to them here and find tickets here.


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