Red Hot First Quarter and Lockdown Defense Sends Utah Women’s Basketball to First Pac-12 Semifinal


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 Eric Jensen, Sports Writer


A year after going 5-16, the University of Utah women’s basketball team is going to the semifinals of the Pac-12 conference tournament after a 70-59 win over Washington State. The turnaround from last year, which saw the Utes go from one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 to a team destined for March Madness is perhaps one of the best sports stories the university has produced over the past year.

This will mark Utah’s deepest tournament run in school history as they move onto the semifinals.

Head coach Lynne Roberts has developed a dangerous team that has a legitimate chance against Oregon Friday night, a team that is predicated on scoring depth and strong team defense.

Utah’s depth shined in this game, with three players scoring over ten points and three additional players scoring over five points.

“We knew if we stayed focused we would get a lot better this offseason,” said freshwoman leader Jenna Johnson.

Johnson put up a stunning 19-point night and continues to be the scoring leader for the club. Lynne Roberts had high praise for her entire team after the win.

“It’s awesome, it’s been such a fun year they’ve bought in they’ve done everything we asked them to do,” Roberts said. “That’s coach-speak, but they have and it’s so much fun to see it all come together for these guys, winning is fun.”

Kennady McQueen played a crucial role in the win saying in the post-game she loves shutting down the opponent’s best player and that’s exactly the way McQueen played. She also hit key first-half shots that allowed Utah to establish a huge lead early on and hold it all the way to the finish line.

Utah’s defensive prowess shined, as they out-rebounded Washington State 22-19 even after losing Peyton McFarland to a scary non-contact knee injury in the first half of play. The young center did not return to the lineup. No injury updates are currently available at this time for McFarland according to athletics staff.

Kelsey Reese stepped in and played excellent defense in replacement of McFarland, and will need to remain sharp as Oregon provides an excellent challenge in post-play for the Utes on Friday night.

Utah will advance and play Oregon in the Pac-12 semifinals tomorrow night.

First Half

The Utes saved their best basketball for the second round of the Pac-12 tournament. No exaggeration, the best shooting performance of the season came in the first half against Washington State. The Utes entered halftime with 45-25 lead.

Utah shot 8-13 from three-point range an astonishing 61 percent. They were 5-5 at the free-throw line and did great work inside the paint as well.

The ball was moving for the Utes as Utah racked up 10 assists in the first half.

Jenna Johnson led the way with 13 points. But Kennady McQueen and others were also vital role-players throughout the first half. McQueen hit several huge shots and ended the first half with eight points.

Unfortunately, an almost perfect first half was overshadowed by an unfortunate non-contact injury to Peyton McFarland.

McFarland was helped off the court putting no weight on her right leg.

Washington State’s Tara Wallack had a great half, scoring 11 points while the Leger-Walker sisters were held quiet.

The Utes’ turnover numbers remained steady but Washington State only scored four points off turnovers.

Second Half

The Utes ended the third quarter up 59-41, ending the frame on an 8-2 run. The three-point play stalled for the Utes in the third quarter as they shot 0-5 from deep.

Brynna Maxwell stepped up and scored six points, getting to the free-throw line four times and hitting all four shots in the third quarter.

The Utes defense stood strong though, grabbing 10 rebounds in the third quarter.

The fourth quarter was a lock-down defensive performance from the Utes as the shooting slowed down and the defensive play improved, carrying the Utes to a 70-59 win.


[email protected]