Utah Women’s Basketball Picks Up First Pac-12 Win


Rachel Rydalch

The University of Utah women’s basketball team celebrate by lighting the “U” as they take home the victory against Lipscomb University at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Nov. 10, 2021. (Photo by Rachel Rydalch | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brian Preece, Sports Writer


The University of Utah women’s basketball team didn’t have the benefit of easing into Pac-12 competition with a game or two against struggling or shorthanded teams. It was quite the opposite as they opened conference play against two Top-10 teams in No. 2 Stanford and No. 10 Arizona.

Double-digit losses in both games belie how well the Utes (0-2, 9-5) acquitted themselves against two teams that met in April with a National Championship on the line. 

A frigid fourth quarter cost Utah at home against the Stanford Cardinal, a game that saw the Utes hold a 7-point first half advantage before going 2-11 from the field in the fourth. 

An uncharacteristic 22 turnovers, nine more than their season average of 13, gave the Arizona Wildcats what they would need in the desert in a 76-64 win. Of course, Arizona limiting Jenna Johnson, Utah’s freshman sensation, to three points on 1-6 shooting had as much to do with the loss as the turnovers.

The Utes remained in Arizona, traveling to Tempe for a Sunday afternoon matinee against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Desert Financial Arena. This game caps the first week with two conference games for each team as both programs have suffered several postponements due to COVID-19 health & safety protocols.

Arizona State Sun Devils 63 – Utah Utes 72

Utah  jumped out to a 17-point first quarter advantage thanks to a defense that held the Sun Devils to four points, pushing their shooting to 15.3 percent from the field in the opening 10 minutes.

The Utes extended their lead in the second as the defense came back to earth but the Ute offense exploded for 25 points in the quarter and bringing it up to seven three-pointers in the first half. 

With defenses beginning to key on Johnson, limiting her touches near the basket and throwing extra bodies when she did get the ball, Payton McFarland picked up the slack, scoring eight points to go along with gathering six rebounds. McFarland also went 4-4 at the free throw line on the day, including two big ones in the final minute with Arizona State in striking distance.

Second half offensive struggles seemed to bleed over to the defensive side of the ball in the second half. Utah struggled from the field, going 7-26 with only two threes.

While Utah sputtered, the Sun Devils slowly chipped away, getting within six points on two different occasions in the fourth.

Gianna Kneepkens led the Utes with 20 points and Brynna Maxwell came off the bench to score 15. 

 The Sun Devils were led by Jade Loville’s 20 points.

Head coach Lynne Roberts spoke to the Utes’ ability to overcome poor shooting in the second half, “This is a really good road win for us. We had about as great of a first half as you can have. Our second half was a little sputtering, but credit to ASU for being so competitive and bringing it that 2nd half. Proud of our players — we showed toughness this weekend.”

By The Numbers

Since scoring 29 points against the BYU Cougars, Kneepkens has averaged 14.6 points per game. She scored in double-figures in both games of the road trip. Kneepkens is averaging 11.5 points per game for the season, trailing only Johnson (12.8) and Maxwell (12.7).

Up Next

Utah will briefly travel back to Salt Lake City before getting back on a plane and heading to Oregon for a Wednesday, Jan. 26, 12 p.m. MT tipoff in Eugene, OR against the Oregon Ducks (3-1, 11-5) in a game that was originally scheduled for Dec. 31, 2021. The Utes then have home and away matchups against the No. 22 Colorado Buffaloes (2-4, 13-4). The Buffs will be at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Friday, Jan. 28 with tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m MT. Both teams will then travel to Boulder, CO for a 12 p.m. MT tipoff on Sunday, Jan. 30.


[email protected]