Utah Women’s Basketball to be Tested With Three Games in Five Days


Nick Grace

Utes Jenna Johnson, Brynna Maxwell and Gianna Kneepkens celebrate their team from the bench. (Courtesy of Nick Grace & University of Utah Athletics)

By Brian Preece, Sports Writer


The University of Utah women’s basketball team begins the process of making up five postponed Pac-12 games this week as they travel to Oregon midweek before playing two regularly scheduled games against the Colorado Buffaloes.

The Utes built a significant lead over the Arizona State Sun Devils and hung on late to get their first Pac-12 win of the season on Sunday afternoon. 

In three conference games, the Utes have lost to the No. 2 Stanford Cardinal and No. 10 Arizona Wildcats, in addition to their win in Tempe.

The Utes (1-2, 10-5) now turn their attention to a week packed with teams that have NCAA Tournament aspirations and are looking to bolster their resumes against a good and trying to be great Utah team. 

In a game originally scheduled to be the Pac-12 opener for both teams on Dec. 31, Utah will travel northwest to Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon where they will take on the No. 19 Oregon Ducks at 12 p.m. MST.

Following that game, the Utes return home and will host the reeling Colorado Buffaloes, losers of four straight, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Friday at 7 p.m. MST before returning the favor and heading to Boulder, CO to complete the second half of a home and home series against the Buffs. Tipoff for Sunday’s game is scheduled for 12 p.m. MST.

The Utes are the fifth-best scoring team in the nation and highest-scoring team in the Pac-12, averaging 82.5 points per game. Effective passing has been a critical component of Utah’s offensive attack as they are top-15 in the nation in both assists per game (17.9) and assist to turnover ratio (1.26:1).

Utah continues to be lethal beyond the arc in their guard-focused attack. Currently third in the nation, the Utes are averaging 10.4 made threes per game and are 19th in the country shooting 36.8% from deep. 

Five Utes are shooting better than 40% from three; G Kennady McQueen is fifth in the Pac-12 at 43.8 percent. G Gianna Kneepkens (.431), G Brynna Maxwell (.430), G Isabel Palmer (.414) and G Inês Vieira (.400) round out the group.

On Monday, Jan. 24, Kneepkens was recognized as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the third time this season. Forward Jenna Johnson has earned the award twice.

No. 19 Oregon Ducks (3-1, 11-5) 3rd in Pac-12

Less than ten days ago, Oregon vaulted itself into the national rankings when they beat two top-10 programs in the span of three days. An inspired 68-66 overtime win over then-No. 7 Arizona was followed up by a 13-point victory over national powerhouse and then-No. 9 Connecticut. 

The Ducks are 7-1 while playing at home this season with their only loss coming to the No. 2 Stanford Cardinal in early January.

Oregon relies on offensive contributions from a variety of players with five Ducks averaging double-figure scoring. Nyara Sabally leads the group at 15.8 points per game, followed by Te-Hina Paopao (14.3), Endyia Rogers (13.7), Sedona Prince (11.3), Sydney Parrish (10.6) make the Oregon offense a tremendous challenge to defend.

After three consecutive losses in late November/early December, the Ducks have been on a tear. Going 8-2 in their past 10 games, including the wins over Connecticut and Arizona, has the Ducks riding high. 

Colorado Buffaloes (2-4, 13-4)

The Buffs began the season with 13 straight wins, rising as high as No. 22 in the AP Poll before an eight-point loss to Stanford on Jan. 14 sent them into a tailspin. 

Four consecutive losses have dropped Colorado from the rankings but could make them a hungry and dangerous opponent for the Utes. 

10-1 at home but a pedestrian 3-3 on the road, Colorado is looking to take advantage of their shortest road trip of the season, while Utah hopes to build momentum before tournament time comes in March.

The Buffaloes are fourth in the Pac-12 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Their balance means the Utes will have to be focused and deliberate in how they attack on both ends.

Mya Hollingshed is the tip of the Buffaloes spear on both sides of the floor. She leads the Buffs in scoring at 13.4 points per game, shooting 38 percent from three. Defensively she is a force near the bucket, racking up 18 blocked shots already. Hollingshed also leads the team with 6.9 boards per game, is fourth with 28 assists and her 26 steals place her third.

Slowing down the 6’3” fifth-year senior will be a tall task for Utah posts Johnson and Payton McFarland and their success will go a long way toward showing how competitive the Utes will be as Pac-12 play continues.


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