Utah Women’s Basketball Claims First Regular Season Pac-12 Title in Program History


Jack Gambassi

The University of Utah women’s basketball team lifts the trophy after the win versus the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Abbey Thomas, Sports Editor


In what would be a weekend to remember, the University of Utah women’s basketball team finished out regular season Pac-12 play in a spot they’ve never been before: the top. The Utes delivered an undeniably impressive performance against California on Thursday, followed by the overthrow of No. 3 Stanford on Saturday, securing them a shared spot for the Pac-12 regular season title. But for this program, it didn’t matter that they had to split the crown — they were making history nonetheless.

Ahead of Thursday’s game against Cal, Utah head coach Lynne Roberts shared the team’s vision in a press conference.

“These guys (the Utah players) came to Utah because they wanted to do something that’s never been done,” she said. “I came to Utah to do something that’s never been done. Our players and our staff have worked their tails off to get us in this spot.”

On Thursday afternoon, Utah made their next step toward that goal. In the first half, the Utes packed on the pressure and pushed out ahead of Cal early, hitting 17 points in the first six minutes as compared to Cal’s seven. The Utes held a consistent 10-point lead on the Bears, before closing out the first quarter 22-13. The second quarter saw more heat from the California side, with Cal’s Jayda Curry picking up a quick five points before Alissa Pili picked up four points of her own. The Bears put on the gas and crept up on the Utes, tying it up at 35 with three minutes to go. The teams tied it up again at 39 before Utah went on a run — complete with threes from Dasia Young and Issy Palmer — to enter halftime 49-43.

Starting the second half, it was pretty clear that if Utah was going to take the match, Cal wasn’t going to let it come easy. The Bears were the first on the board with a fastbreak layup, before Kennady McQueen came through with a three. Jenna Johnson lended a series of her own layups from the paint, and before long the Utes had broken 70 points. The two teams hit a stalemate for the last two minutes of the quarter, before Cal hit one last free throw to bring it to 75-62, still struggling to catch up to Utah.

Aiming to finish strong in the fourth quarter, the Utes continued to jump ahead of Cal as far as they could — Peyton McFarland was the first to score this time with a layup from the paint, and at the seven-minute mark Lani White came in to smash back to back threes with the help of Inês Vieira. Johnson found her own three, and the Bears couldn’t find the strength to break 76 points. Young concluded Thursday’s scoring with a layup and a free throw, breaking triple digits at a final score of 101-76.

At the completion of such a vital victory for the Utes, the team could finally afford to turn their thoughts to what awaited them on Saturday. With Stanford being one of Utah’s only three losses this season, defeating the No. 3 program in the country wouldn’t be a simple feat.

And far from simple it was. In the first half, neither team could put more than just a few points between each other — at least, after Stanford gave Utah a good scare by starting the game with a lightning-fast 9-0 run. However, Johnson and Pili put the crowd’s fear to rest with a three pointer from each, followed by a jumper from Palmer. Here, Kelsey Rees came in to deliver a set of free throws to nudge past Stanford and make it 10-9. Both teams came to play aggressively, which was marked by the 12 fouls called in the first quarter alone.

Having stayed within reach of the Cardinal through the first quarter, the Utes came into the second quarter looking to take the lead. Pili came in to tie it up at 17 at the start, and Stanford tossed in a few free throws to pull themselves back up. McQueen came back in retaliation and launched a three-pointer from the back, with Rees coming through with a layup to squeak past Stanford again at 22-21. The next five minutes would be an intense battle for the lead, before Gianna Kneepkens shot a shaky three to secure a six-point lead going into the half, at 40-34.

The third quarter saw the Utes command a reasonable lead for the duration of the 10 minutes, with Johnson starting it off with a three and a layup to push the gap to 11 points. Palmer came in with her own three as the teams hit a bit of a rut, as Stanford began to wake up and made it within three points of the Utes. Utah struggled to counter the Cardinal’s run before Pili threw a last-second three, sinking the ball as the buzzer sounded to keep the Utes up 62-57.

If the first three quarters weren’t exciting enough, the final quarter certainly had the Utah fans on their feet. The initial minutes started out innocently enough, with each team setting up their own three pointer and layup to push four points higher. Suddenly, Stanford moved on the offensive and darted up within a point of the Utes, sitting at 73-72. After a three from Kneepkens, the rest of the game would be a story of free throws, with McQueen, Palmer, Kneepkens and Young all completing their own sets of frees, ultimately holding Stanford at bay. The buzzer sounded at 84-78, ringing in a historic new set of champions.

“This has been my dream and vision since I got here,” Roberts said. “I’m so proud of this team and so grateful for the atmosphere here today and to everyone that came out to support. Winning this game was a matter of ability to just stay focused and not get tight. The difference in this game I think from the past is that we weren’t tentative. We were going at them, we just did a good job. … To create something, you gotta have a vision, and I did envision it. People told me it was crazy to think that was possible, but I knew that it was. It’s incredibly satisfying for it to happen.”

With a new Pac-12 Championship title under their belt, the Utah Women’s Basketball Team is projected to take one of the No. 2  seed spots going into the NCAA tournament, set to begin in March. The Utes are also set to host the first two rounds of the tournament at home in the Huntsman, and will hopefully continue to make more history in front of a home crowd.


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