Utah Women’s Basketball Advances to Pac-12 Tournament Final


Xiangyao Tang

The University of Utah women’s basketball team takes on the USC Trojans at the Jon. M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brian Preece, Sports Writer


In defeating Cal and Washington State, the Utes doubled the amount of tournament wins the program has experienced since joining the Pac-12 following the 2011 season. 

With those wins, the University of Utah women’s basketball program had already accomplished a first-time feat by advancing to the 2022 Pac-12 women’s basketball conference tournament semifinals where they would face the second-seeded Oregon Ducks.

The work didn’t end there.

Utah had gone 0-2 against Oregon in the regular season, but a big second-half comeback in the regular season finale just six days ago gave the Utes confidence that they would end a 13-game losing streak to the Ducks and extend their magical postseason run.

First Quarter

On her 19th birthday, freshman guard Gianna Kneepkens got the Utes on the board first with a corner three.

In stark contrast to their matchup in Salt Lake less than a week ago when Utah fell behind early, the Utes were able to build an early 7-2 advantage. The lead was short-lived as the Ducks went on a 16-3 run.

Utah missed six of seven shots during the Oregon streak.

Oregon shot a respectable 47.8 percent from the field and went 2-5 from deep in the opening quarter. Utah struggled to combat Oregon’s length, shooting 35.7 percent themselves.

Oregon closed the quarter on a 23-7 run.

Second Quarter

The Ducks continued to test the interior depth of a Utah team playing without Peyton McFarland after she went down with a non-contact knee injury against Washington State the previous night.

Without McFarland, Kelsey Rees, one of the most improved players conference wide, was forced to take a majority of the punishment from WNBA hopeful Sedona Prince. Prince hit four of six shots in the half, finishing tied with Endyia Rogers in leading Oregon with eight first half points.

Dru Gylten’s five first half assists helped Utah cut the 11-point deficit to just five at the half. Kneepkens led the Utes with seven points and Kennady McQueen added six rebounds.

Four different Utes hit a three in the half.

Third Quarter

Just like the opening quarter, Kneepkens got Utah on the board with a quick three, cutting the Oregon lead to 37-25. Unlike the first half, Utah’s three-point shooting was about to break out in a big way.

The Utes would attempt six of their first ten second half shots from deep, knocking down four triples while shutting Oregon down on the defensive end. A huge McQueen three put the Utes in front 41-40 with 7:35 left, marking their first lead since the 6:28 mark of the first quarter.

The fabulous freshmen duo of Kneepkens and Jenna Johnson combined for 13 points, two rebounds and three assists while shooting 5-8 from the field and 3-4 from three in the quarter.

Utah outscored Oregon 23-8 in the quarter.

Fourth Quarter

The goal was to not let up, keeping their foot on the gas and cruising to an easy win. Oregon had other ideas as a team that had been ranked in the top-25 earlier in the season wasn’t going to lay down for the plucky Utes.

The Ducks used a 6-0 run to take a 66-65 lead with 3:56 remaining.

A huge shift in momentum went Utah’s way on the next possession as McQueen was fouled by Nyara Sabally on a three point shot. Oregon head coach Kelly Graves got a technical arguing the foul that ended up disqualifying Sabally.

From there, Utah would then go wild from the free throw line, knocking down 12 of their 15 attempts at the charity stripe and pulling away from Oregon in the process. 

With the 80-73 win, Utah advances to the Pac-12 championship game for the first time in program history.

“This is a huge win for our group. I’m so proud of this team,” head coach Lynne Roberts said following the game. “Sometimes getting to this point takes time and you take hits, thinking ‘When is this going to happen’. It feels really good for it to happen.”

By the Numbers

McQueen had the game of her life, her 13 points and 11 rebounds don’t tell the full story of her constant activity level. Kneepkens finished with a team high 24 points and her five assists matched Gylten for the team lead. Rees finished with a career-high 14 points.

Postgame, McQueen spoke about her career night.

“They were bigger than us tonight which meant our bigs had to box out. They did their job tonight, allowing me to get my rebounds.”

Up Next

Utah remains in Las Vegas where they will face the defending national champion Stanford Cardinal on Sunday, March 6. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. (MST). 

The Utes lost both regular season matchups with the Cardinal this season. After leading for much of the game, Stanford used a fourth quarter run to beat the Utes 83-73 in Salt Lake on Jan. 16. In Palo Alto on Feb. 11, the Cardinal handed the Utes their largest margin of defeat all season in a 91-64 loss. Stanford has won 33 consecutive games against Pac-12 opponents, dating back to last season.


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