Utah Women’s Basketball Endures Tough Weekend in Arizona


Julia Chuang

The University of Utah women’s basketball team takes on the Idaho team at the Jon. M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 7 2022. (Photo by Julia Chuang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Abbey Thomas, Assistant Sports Editor


On Friday, the University of Utah women’s basketball team headed south for another weekend of Pac-12 action in Arizona. The trip proved to be tougher than expected, as the Utes were dealt their third loss of the season from the University of Arizona. Despite the unfortunate defeat, Utah still secured a first round bye for the Pac-12 tournament after their win at Arizona State.

Starting on Friday with the Wildcats, the game began in good spirits with an Alissa Pili layup to get the Utes on the board. Arizona’s Jade Loville countered with her own jumper, kicking off an aggressive offensive move from the Wildcats — over the next five minutes, almost every point scored by the Utes was matched by Arizona, until the latter were able to jump ahead and hold an eight point lead at 7-15. In an attempt to narrow the gap, Utah’s Kennady McQueen nailed a 3-pointer and Jenna Johnson scored a layup and a set of free throws. Arizona continued to hustle past the Utes and ultimately took the first quarter 17-22.

Continuing to hold the momentum, Arizona opened the second quarter with a layup, prompting Pili to turn around and drain a 3-pointer, a jumper, and a layup all in a row. Sophomore Gianna Kneepkens followed suit and delivered a layup, before nailing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer to pull the Utes above Arizona 32-30. Another point-for-point battle ensued, with the two teams bouncing back and forth on the scoreboard. The Wildcats proved to be victorious in the end, going into halftime 40-44.

After a much-needed break for the Utes, the second half got underway with a layup from Arizona and a layup from Pili. Arizona started to pick up some speed and piled on five points, after which Isabel Palmer came through and contributed four good free throws to bring it to 49-53. The teams’ energy started to dissipate and the next few minutes saw only eight points scored between the two, before Johnson finished with a good layup from the paint and brought the Utes to 53-63.

Still in reach of a victory, the Utes headed into the final quarter in hopes of reclaiming the match. Arizona once again was the first to strike, setting up some free throws to widen the gap. Johnson snapped back with some free throws of her own, complete with a layup. Over the last five minutes the Wildcats continued to nab small points along the way, and just before the 10-minute mark, Pili claimed Utah’s last point of the game with a free throw. The match concluded in a victory for Arizona, at a final score of 72-82.

After the match, an interview with head coach Lynne Roberts praised the efforts of both teams. “I thought it was an incredibly physical game,” she said. “Our offense is based off ball and player movement and it was hard to do tonight having to fight through everything. We got good shots, hit good looks, they just didn’t fall for us tonight.”

Hoping to move past their hard-fought defeat, the Utes headed to Tempe to face Arizona State. The game started in a fashion all too familiar for the Utes — in the first three minutes, the Sun Devils rose to a 9-0 lead, before Kelsey Rees lent a 3-pointer to get the Utes on the board. Utah played catch-up and delivered some free throws and a layup from Johnson, trailing Arizona by six points. Kneepkens sunk two free throws before finishing off the quarter in the paint with a final jumper, just behind the Devils at 16-23.

The second quarter started off equally as rough, with the Utes hitting a free throw in the first minute and subsequently hitting a drought for the next four minutes as Arizona crept up the scoreboard. Peyton McFarland broke the silence with a layup, and Kneepkens pulled a fast break to grab a jumper. The guard was joined by Isabel Palmer, and the pair each shot a 3-pointer to help the Utes squeak by the Sun Devils to finish the first half 31-29.

After a very physical two quarters, halftime offered a small reprieve before sending the teams right back into action — Arizona tied it up at 31 with a jumper to start things off, and got a few steps ahead of the Utes until Kneepkens and McFarland each hit a jumper and Teya Sidberry came in to deliver a set of free throws. McQueen put Utah ahead again with a 3-pointer, and the two teams remained within two points of each other over the next few minutes until Johnson drained another 3-point shot to put the Utes up 47-44. A 3-pointer from the Arizona side notched the Devils back up, but Kneepkens came through with a final free throw to claim the third quarter 52-51.

Tired and not looking for a repeat of Friday’s match, the Utes were the first on the board in the final quarter, in what would be an intense 10-minute battle. Neither team got further than two points from the other until the last forty seconds, when Johnson nailed a set of free throws to stretch the Utah lead to four points. Ines Vieira came in to deliver her own set of free throws, with Kneepkens following with the same and Arizona draining a 3-pointer right after. The Sun Devils fought for any final points they could grab, but the buzzer sounded and rang in a Utah victory at 74-69.

The Utes are set to host Cal and Stanford at the Jon M. Huntsman Center next weekend for their final two games in regular Pac-12 play, before the tournament begins on March 1.


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