Utah Women’s Basketball Happy to be Playing Games Again


Rachel Rydalch Shelton

Pep talk from team captains to prepare the Utah Utes women’s basketball team to take on Lipscomb University at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Nov. 10, 2021. (Photo by Rachel Rydalch Shelton | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brian Preece, Sports Writer


The University of Utah women’s basketball team finally got back on the floor after a 3½-week-long absence due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the program.

The team had seen four games already postponed because of health and safety and when a fifth was halted because of similar problems within the Cal Bear program, head coach Lynne Roberts scrambled to find an opponent on short notice.

In stepped the UC Riverside Highlanders, another program looking for a game after having eight of their own games canceled. The Utes and Highlanders were able to plan a game with less than 24-hours notice that allowed both teams to get some much-needed game action.

For the Utes, it was critical to play a game before the No. 2 Stanford Cardinal came into the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Sunday afternoon. There’s a fine line between rest and rust, and Utah was tip-toeing that line.

UC Riverside Highlanders 48 – Utah Utes 89

In a game played at the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility because the Huntsman Center was unavailable, the Utes were able to build an early lead before coasting to a 41-point margin of victory.

Roberts employed a new-look starting lineup against the Highlanders as Payton McFarland started at center and with the return of Kennady McQueen from injury, freshman Gianna Kneepkens remained in the starting lineup after scoring 15.4 points per game in her previous five contests. Brynna Maxwell slid into the sixth man role.

It was clear for the first five minutes that the Utes had some rust to knock off, but it didn’t take long for the new rotation to prove its benefits. 

Roberts spoke of the importance of getting back on the court. “Today gave us a chance to get back and play after the layoff we had,” she said. “I appreciate the University and the Athletic Department for stepping up and getting everything ready for the game today. To play against somebody else and work on your game, there is no comparison to having a chance to play versus practice.”

After trailing 8-7, Utah’s defense clicked in and shots started to fall, allowing them to build a 15-point advantage after the opening 10 minutes.

Coming off the bench for the first time this season, Maxwell thrived at the free-throw line where she went 7-7 in the first quarter.  

The Utes came back to earth a bit in the second quarter, outsourcing UC Riverside 18-16 and taking a 42-25 lead into the half. 

Utah’s offense took over in the second half, shooting better than 50% from the field as a team.

Seven different Utes hit a three as they improved to 52-19 under Roberts when making more than eight threes in a game. The win was the 100th of Roberts’ career with Utah. 

Stanford Cardinal 83 – Utah Utes 73

Utah was unable to hold on to a 13-point first-half lead as the second-ranked Stanford Cardinal pulled away late in an 83-73 loss.

Utah hosted Stanford at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Sunday, Jan. 16.

The Utes were able to build the first-half lead on the back of tenacious team defense, forcing six steals on the way to 10 first-half Cardinal turnovers. Utah converted those 10 turnovers into 13 points.

With a seven-point lead at the break, the young Utah team struggled to get stops in the third quarter as Stanford went 5-7 from deep after going 4-14 from three in the first half.

It was nip and tuck for much of the second half as the two teams saw seven lead changes and three ties.

A Kennady McQueen three gave Utah a 68-64 lead with 6:40 left but Utah would go cold from the field, hitting only one more shot from the field for the rest of the game.

“This was a tough loss,” coach Roberts said following the game. “Stanford is really good. What they did in the fourth quarter is kind of what they’ve done all season: win close games. If you look at the shooting percentages in the fourth quarter, that’s kind of what the game comes down to. We missed a lot. They made shots and shot for percentage.”

Up Next

Utah travels to Arizona to continue Pac-12 play when they travel to Arizona on Jan. 21 and Arizona State on Jan. 23. Tip-off for the contest against the Wildcats is set for 7 p.m. MT. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks and 105.5 KOOL FM.


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